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April 3, 2009

If a buyer wants to raze Pimlico, can Maryland save the Preakness?

Hanah Cho reports this morning that shopping center magnate Carl Verstandig plans to bid on Pimlico and Laurel Park and wants to redevelop them into retail centers. His preference, he says, is to raze Pimlico, and he doesn't seem all that enamored of keeping Laurel running, either. Horse racing? He doesn't really care. And in the heresy of all heresies, he seems not all that concerned about what happens to the Preakness.

"There is enough interest in keeping the Preakness," he said. "There are plenty of locations they could use. They could run it in Timonium or any other location. I don't think it has to be specific to the Pimlico racetrack."

This has sparked some quick outrage.

“Any proposals that lead to Baltimore City losing the Preakness should be off the table,” City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake said in a statement this morning. “Prospective bidders for the track need to understand that any plan that would effectively take the Preakness away from Baltimore City will meet significant resistance from the Baltimore City Council.”

“The 134 year old Preakness Stakes is a tremendous asset for the City of Baltimore that has a global reach,” Rawlings-Blake said. “Great care must be taken to preserve that tradition by keeping the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore.”

It's a little unclear what the City Council could do to stop someone from moving the Preakness out of Baltimore, but it could certainly make any redevelopment plan for the site difficult through zoning and other means.

The state is also taking a stake in this, with Senate President Mike Miller saying the legislature, governor and attorney general's office are all fully engaged in keeping the race. A state law, which may or may not be worth the paper it's printed on, says Maryland has the right to buy the Preakness if anyone tries to move it out of state.

But if not at Pimlico, where? Timonium? Given how York Road backs up for your average Saturday gun and knife show at the Fair Grounds, the mind reels at the traffic jam Preakness would cause there. Laurel is an obvious spot, but not if it, too, becomes a big shopping center. Would this just renew the old debate over the state building a supertrack downtown?

Posted by Andy Green at 9:51 AM | | Comments (24)


Rawlings-Blake should focus her concern on the mess that is Park Heights. A shopping center would be much better for that area than Pimlico, but I guess the Mt. Washington NIMBY money crowd would stop that from happening..

Build another racetrack? People don't go to the ones that already exist.

It is time to raze Pimlico and sell Laurel to the highest bidder for development or something else. The Maryland Stadium Authority should focus its attention on finding someone to build a new track near Camden Yards so that this area is truly a sports complex. The Baltimore-Washington corridor could be served by this facility. Slots could go there as well. Often times, we don't have the chance to start new; now that chance has surfaced. Pimlico is a dump that serves the sole purpose of being the largest simulcast center in America, except for a few days in the Spring. For those on the north side of town, Laurel is an afterthought to Delaware Park.

Let's find some leaders who have a vision to build a state of the art facility that racing fans will travel from far away to attend. Nothing could be better than go to the races and then walk to Camden Yards for a baseball game.

Don't worry about the Preakness moving to Timonium; that simply won't happen for a multitude of reasons. Primarily, the infrastructure isn't there. The facility could never host such an event and the roads could never handle the traffic. I think the state ought to condemn the property at Pimlico and take ownership of it. Then rebuild the grandstand and clubhouse to meet at least 20th century standards. That way the Preakness could be held in a facility which we could all be proud of as Marylanders. Currently it is an object of scorn and ridicule among horseplayers, the national press and anybody else you care to name.

Sell Pimico, Laurel and the Preakness to the highest bidder. If Laurel and Pimico closes, then we could take the 30% of slots profits/revenue and put it to good use instead of subudies a dying industry. The middle class do not go to horse racing. They may go to the preakness but asks anyone who is leaving Preakness who one the race. I bet you less then 10% can give you a answer.

A new supertrack downtown near Camden is the best idea.

1. It would be accessable by current public transit, future public transit (Red Line) and I95.

2. Put slots in the facility. Horse racing by day, walk to Camden for a night game or to the harbor for dinner.

3. Have more concerts during the summer, compete with other facilities.

4. Close Laurel and Pimlico, concentrate on one super track backed by location and slots.

The reason why Maryland tracks don't make money is not because people don't like horse racing. Horse racing is very successful in other states that do not even have the rich tradition that Maryland has with the sport. The problem with the Maryland tracks is the location they are in. Families would love to come to tracks, but who wants to bring their kids to Pimlico. It's a shame the city couldn't have spread some of that money used to revitalize Canton, Fells Point, and the harbor to Pimlico. If people feel safe to bring their families to the track than they will come because the interest is there in horse racing. Ever been in the packed grandstand during the fair at Timonium and heard the loud cheers of excitement? If the city wants to save Pimlico the race track, they need to save Pimlico the neighborhood first.

I am amused by the suggestion that the Preakness could run at Timonium. It is a non-starter and not worthy of discussion. Timonium is a 5/8 mile track. It is fairgrounds racing. Major races and racing are conducted on 1 mile ovals. You could never run the Preakness (or any Triple Crown or Grade 1 race) on a 5/8 mile track. It is the equivalent of running the Indianapolis 500 at Dover Downs.

first of all anyone who says they can run the preakness at timonium is too stupid to do business with. the sad fact is horse racing is a dead sport. when frank defrancis owned tracks he did a great job and spurred interest in the sport. when his son and daughter took over the track they ran the business into the ground. magna has/had no idea how to run the tracks. it's better to put the slot money whenever it starts coming in to build schools, hire good teachers, build roads, bridges, create new jobs maybe with alternative energy. give tax breaks for new businesses moving into the state.

maryland has lost the preakness - get over it. the bankruptcy court's role is to auction assets to the highest bidder to reimburse creditors and those assets include the preakness. maryland may be willing to build stadiums for baseball and football, but they have never been willing to help racing (they just want the taxes that comes from betting.) and that is what it will come down to because the land is worth more for houses and shops than it is for horses. will the state meet the highest bid for the preakness and then spend $300m for a new track? uhuh.

if maryland and baltimore had wanted to keep the preakness they had plenty of opportunities to support racing and help the racing industry obtain slots on acceptable conditions (not the ridiculous tax and die plan mapped out by house leader busch.)

Our Democrats in Annapolis lacked the fortitude to allow a slots win for Ehrlich-
thus the death of Pimlico can be laid at the feet o Miller and Busch.
MOM joins in with the ridiculous
constituional amendment that so totally screwed things up!
Nice job guys! Now speed cameras get
passed to cover for the lack of slots money!
I beg my boss to move the business to Delaware so we can get the hell out of Maryland, the fleece state!

I think we should build a new opera house. I don't think Baltimore can consider itself a world class city without an opera company and new opera house. The Lyric is a dog and the Baltimore Opera Company is gone. The legislature should step in and provide qualify opera.. This is of far greater priority than another gambling venue.

Every time I drive across Northern Parkway and see that strip of land between the parkway and Rogers Ave. where single-family houses used to be, back before the Md. Jockey Club bought them for a song on speculation of bigger and better things, I cringe. And now somebody wants to put another low-end shopping center on that property?!? That's certainly not going to do anything to help the neighborhood.

Holding the Preakness at Timonium? Well, anybody who thinks that can be done obviously doesn't know a thing about this race and the number of people who attend it. It is Maryland's biggest sporting event and its biggest money maker. With renovation, Pimlico could be the site for the Breeders' Cup - another huge money maker. Governor Schwarzenegger is grinning big time over the 100 million dollars that the Breeders' Cup brought to California last Oct. He get's the last laugh for 2009, too, since the it will be held there again this year. Too bad Maryland has no vision in this area. Our lawmakers really have no idea how to make a buck by capitalizing on the racing history of Maryland and improving what they already have.

I just laugh every time I see something about the State running the Preakness and a race track. They screw up everything they touch like the cash cameras and the slot issue.

Look at the attention Sydney gets with its opera house. A new opera house on the harbor would show off Baltimore as a world class city. Where is Schaefer now that we need him! Do it now!!!

We don't need a race track and a slots parlor.

Maryland no longer cares about horse racing. The State and residents have had many chances to save the Preakness and no one has been remotely interested. And now that there's no alcohol allowed in the infield it'll be a ghost town.

The one good thing about all this is that Maryland will get what it deserves: national scrutiny and ridicule when everyone sees that we've all but run horseracing out of the state, all by our own actions.

Oh, and our lawmakers can't figure out how to make money for the State if it doesn't involve raping it's residents.

Slots will save MD racing. Slots will save MD everything. O'Malley will lower your utility bill. It's too late for slots to help anything but THEY don't have a clue. :^)

I basically agree with Fed Up, Greg and others. It may sound cynical, but what they say is true. I have very little faith in the state being able to run a racetrack and it is their own fault that the situation has come to this. It's up to the bankruptcy judge and he or she happens to reside in a Delaware court. Good luck!

Do Maryland politicians ever offer up any constructive suggestions? It seems on all these economic develoment issues the only considerations are 1) can we bleed somebody dry or 2) seize their property

Builing a mall at this location is a fantastic idea. I also agree that Baltimore City would benefit from keeping the preakness. If the mall was built around the Track with ample cheap or free parking nad it was an actual MALL and not a strip shopping center, it could be a state state destination the likes of Arnudel Mills. When the right mall is built, people come out of the wood work to shop there. The plan is finacially feasable and allows for the preakness to stay. The interesting this here is that The Baltimore City Council's obstuction of this plan makes one wonder if they are TRULY interested in turning Baltimore City around. I personally know people in the area and they are HURTING BADLY for work. Put some real stimulus in the area. BUILD THE MALL (Around the Preakness.)

Ridicule? By whom? Almost nobody cares about horse racing, in or our of Maryland.

The reason people don't go to Pimlico is that it looks like a place built by Cheap Jim.

No tax payer money for horse racing

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About the bloggers
Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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