Delegate Sandy Rosenberg: A Vision to Keep the Preakness in Baltimore

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Legendary horse trainer Bob Baffert wants the Preakness to stay in Baltimore.

He told the Baltimore Sun, “To me, it’s magical in here. There’s something about it. I’ve been watching it since I was 10, 11 years old…There’s so much history here.”

It’s true.

I’ve been watching horses run around the track at Pimlico for a long time – since I was in elementary school – and I’ve been serving in the House of Delegates representing Old Hilltop, the surrounding neighborhoods, and all of District 41 for 36 years.

We’ve seen a lot of changes at Pimlico during that time – good and bad. And we’ve seen a lot of changes in Park Heights, but the more recent debate about whether to keep the Preakness in Baltimore promises to be a turning point for the Park Heights community and the future of Pimlico.

The race track may be magical, but the investment required to update Pimlico is significant and could cost anywhere between $250-$322 million.

That’s a very high price for a one-day-per-year use, despite the significant economic benefit of Preakness Weekend for the Baltimore region and the state.

I recognize that.

That’s why we need a vision for Pimlico and Park Heights: economic and community development that would complement a 21st Century thoroughbred racing facility. We need a “365-day a year” vision that would allow for the necessary upgrades at Pimlico and help fulfill longstanding promises to revitalize the Park Heights community.

We can make this vision a reality. Some have contemplated making the infield a year-round facility for the adjacent neighborhoods and the region. The Baltimore Development Corporation has had serious conversations with various commercial enterprises.

Two 21st Century schools, Pimlico and Arlington Elementary Middle Schools, will be reopening within a mile of the track over the next 16 months.

LifeBridge Health expects to use its Preakness Way property on the eastern end of the site as a destination campus, including an outpatient care center.

The second and final phase of a Maryland Stadium Authority study that will include “visioneering and concept development of an ‘ideal’ Preakness venue” and assess “the site’s ability to accommodate various non-racing functions on a year-round basis” will be completed in December, just in the time for the 2019 legislative session.

The first phase of the Stadium Authority study concluded that “there do not appear to be any situational factors that cannot be overcome with regard to continue hosting the Preakness at Pimlico,…However, Pimlico Race Course is antiquated and in need of substantial renovation.”

Come December, we’ll have to decide if there is the political will to keep the Preakness in Baltimore and move forward with a revitalization plan for Pimlico and the Park Heights community.

"Governor Hogan has made it clear he wants to see the Preakness stay in Baltimore, where it has attracted visitors from around the country for over 140 years," said a spokeswoman for the Governor during Preakness Week last year. We look forward to his continued support.

Mayor Catherine Pugh is steadfastly committed to keeping the Preakness and redeveloping Park Heights. She made that point at a briefing on Park Heights redevelopment yesterday.

Pimlico can be an economic and community center for Park Heights year-round and support a 21st Century thoroughbred racing facility. Let’s hope there is enough Preakness magic left to summon the political courage to make it a reality.

Sandy Rosenberg has represented District 41 in the Maryland House of Delegates since 1983.

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