Sidelines with John Clay

Pimlico needs a rebuild, but is home of the Preakness worth the cost?

I’m all for demolishing Pimlico.

The storied home of the Preakness Stakes has been a crumbling mess for some time. The charm of the place and the history of the race pales in comparison to the peeling paint, creaky stairs, malfunctioning elevators and holes in the drywall. The task of rebuilding Pimlico, which opened in 1870, is a can continually kicked down the road.

However, I’m not sure spending $424 million to first demolish and then rebuild the place is worth the price tag. And that’s what a new Maryland Stadium Authority study, to be released on Thursday, is recommending.

The Baltimore Sun reports, “The full study, which will be released online Thursday morning, aims to design an ideal venue to host the Preakness Stakes and considers several year-round, non-racing uses for the site in Baltimore’s Park Heights area. It recommends adding amenities at the track, such as a grocery store, other shops, a hotel and townhouses.

“It suggests ‘demolition and removal of all existing structures on the site, including the tracks, infield, grandstand, clubhouse, equestrian barns and associated infrastructure.’

“The $424 million cost estimate does not include any of the future development initiatives beyond rebuilding the clubhouse and tracks. It envisions additional projects that would be built by private developers.”

This comes as the Stronach Group, majority owners of both Pimlico and Laurel Park in Maryland, had been dropping hints that it was close to moving the second jewel of the Triple Crown down the road to Laurel. And the fact there is a ready-made alternative nearby makes rebuilding Pimlico a thornier proposition.

Laurel has undergone upgrades and has more space to host the event. Stronach Group officials have indicated that they could move the Preakness to the track, closer to Washington, D.C., as soon as 2020. Stronach has also said its goal is to be host to a Breeders’ Cup at Laurel, as well.

Baltimore has been long opposed to the Preakness moving out of its longtime home. Despite rain and fog, the race drew an announced crowd of 134,487 this past May, the third-largest in the Preakness’ 143-year history. The idea of paying for a Pimlico renovation, however, has been a sticking point.

Alan Foreman, counsel for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, told the Baltimore Sun he likes the idea that the study looked at not only Pimlico but the surrounding area, as well.

“It still begs the question of ‘How are you going to pay for it?’” Foreman said.

There has been talk of a public-private partnership to a renovation plan or the idea of a new track. The Stronach Group has said it is not willing to undertake the project by itself.

“We’ve made it pretty clear that we’re not going to put any funds into it,” Tim Ritvo, COO of The Stronach Group, said at the Preakness in May. “We’re not going to pour millions and millions of dollars — hundreds of millions of dollars — into the facility here and continue to renovate Laurel.”

And if the city adopts the study’s suggestion and renovates Pimlico, the Preakness would likely have to move to another venue. At least temporarily. And there is a fear it might not return.

“If they can guarantee us we won’t lose the Preakness, the city will do our part,” City Council President Jack Young told the Baltimore Sun, adding that the state of Maryland would have to do its part, as well.

Whatever is decided, the issue of what to do about a dilapidated Pimlico has to finally be addressed, and soon.

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