Pimlico negotiations going well, Commission told, but details are scarce
The future of Pimlico Race Course remains up in the air.
But, after a winter and spring full of lawsuits and acrimony, the sides are continuing to talk, and that has to be considered a step in the right direction.
“That they’re continuing to negotiate gives me great hope and cautious optimisim,” Racing Commission Chairman Michael Algeo said following the meeting, which had been delayed from an earlier July date.
Algeo read to the meeting a letter delivered August 13 to the Commission by negotiators representing the City of Baltimore, the Stronach Group, and Maryland’s racing industry.
“[W]e are pleased to report that we have and continue to make substantial progress,” the negotiators wrote.
The exact nature of that progress is not known and in fact, given the small and gossipy nature of the racing industry, has been a tightly held secret thus far.
In broad strokes, the City’s primary interest is to keep the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore. The Stronach Group is seeking to maximize the revenue it generates from the Preakness and from year-round racing operations — which it believes it can do best at a proposed “super-track” at Laurel — while the state’s horsemen are hoping to keep the momentum of recent years going.
“[W]e have been actively exploring comprehensive and long-term capital plans for Pimlico, Laurel Park and other racing facilities,” the men wrote, towards the goal of bringing to the appropriate legislative bodies — particularly the state government — a proposed plan “as to the ways and means to preserve the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico and year-round sustainable racing at Laurel Park.”
The negotiations began earlier this year after both sides — the City of Baltimore and the Stronach Group, which owns Laurel Park and Pimlico — had failed to advance the ball through less collaborative means.
Dueling pieces of legislation — the City’s to create a workgroup to study how to fund a new Pimlico, the Stronach Group’s to empower it to bond out RFRA moneys to support the redevelopment of Laurel and Bowie but, pointedly, not Pimlico — went nowhere during the legislative session.
And a lawsuit by the City to take possession of Pimlico and the Preakness floundered after former Mayor Catherine Pugh resigned in disgrace.
Eventually, with new Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young in place, the City in June withdrew the suit, and on June 27, a trio of men — representing the City, the Stronach Group, and Maryland’s horsemen — told the Commission that they were working together to craft a solution that promoted the interests of all three groups.
“There is nothing more significant to us… than finding a solution,” Alan Rifkin told the Commission. “It will be resolved if it can be resolved.”
Rifkin, a lawyer, represents the Stronach Group, while Bill Cole, former head of the Baltimore Development Corporation is negotiating on the City’s behalf. Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association general counsel Alan Foreman represents the state’s racing industry.
“My goal is to protect the racing industry,” Foreman said in June. “I firmly believe we can make Maryland racing not only the epicenter of racing in the Mid-Atlantic but in the whole country.”
And it was those three who delivered the August 13 letter.
They have proposed no timetable for the plan, though given the urgency felt by the sides — this year’s Preakness saw the closure of Pimlico’s old grandstand followed by a water main break just days ahead of the event — it seems likely they intend to bring something to the Legislature in January.
That urgency also means that the group requested more time from the Commission regarding another request that Algeo had made at the last meeting.
Back in June, Algeo asked the Maryland Jockey Club to provide the Commission with an interim plan for Pimlico. That plan, he said, should start from the premise that, since the Preakness will remain at Pimlico for at least two years in any scenario, the Maryland Jockey Club must take steps to make Old Hilltop a viable facility for those events.
But the letter, signed by Rifkin on behalf of himiself and the others, sought the Commission’s forbearance.
“[W]e would respectfully request the Racing Commission’s continuing patience as we explore the feasibility of more comprehensive and long-term capital plans,” the letter said.
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