By Samuel I. Rosenberg
I’ve been around the track before. This is my ninth term in the House of Delegates.
I’ve been watching horses run around the track at Pimlico since I was in elementary school. One of my classmates, Jay Slater, lived at Rogers and Merville avenues – the top of the stretch.
I was at Jay’s house when I learned that President Kennedy had died. We had walked there from Pimlico Junior High that fateful Friday afternoon.
We were watching from the attic window – or maybe from the roof itself, when Secretariat made his explosive move on the clubhouse turn in the 1973 Preaknesss.
This year, I’ll be watching from the enclosed grandstand with two dozen friends at my 45th annual brunch and Preakness party.
I related this history to Tom Kelso, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, when we met at the Center Club in December 2015. He already knew that the race track was in my legislative district.
Don Hutchinson arranged our lunch. We had discussed the future of the Preakness when we met by chance at the Dizz bar and restaurant in Remington.
After all, this is Baltimore.
Tom and I discussed having the Stadium Authority conduct a study of the future of the Preakness at Pimlico. The Maryland Stadium Authority is highly regarded in Annapolis, having built Oriole Park and M&T Bank Stadium, among numerous other projects.
A report under its auspices would carry great weight with my colleagues.
The first and thus far only meeting of the third Saturday in May committee was held two months later.
The state, Baltimore city and the Maryland Jockey Club were represented and made their commitments to fund the first phase of the study to “evaluate Pimlico Racecourse’s ability to serve as the permanent home for the Preakness Stakes.”
The study concluded: “There do not appear to be any situational factors that cannot be overcome with regard to continuing hosting the Preakness at Pimlico. … However, Pimlico Race Course is antiquated and in need of substantial renovation.” The cost estimate: from $250 million to $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.
Even I recognized that.
Since then, however, there is growing interest in making Pimlico the site of economic and community development that would complement a 21st-century thoroughbred racing facility.
“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,” a spokeswoman for the governor said during Preakness Week last year.
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh is committed to redeveloping the neighboring Park Heights community. 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 Baltimore Development Corporation has had serious conversations with various commercial enterprises.
There is interest in making the infield a year-round facility for the adjacent neighborhoods and the region. Two 21st-century schools, Pimlico and Arlington elementary/middle schools, will be reopening within a mile of the track over the next two years.
The second and final phase of the study was approved this month. It will include “visioneering and concept development of an ‘ideal’ Preakness venue … and assessing the site’s ability to accommodate various non-racing functions on a year-round basis.”
The expected completion date is December.
The voters of the 41st District willing, the 2019 session of the General Assembly would be my 37th trip around the track.
It is then that we should decide whether the Preakness should remain where it belongs — at Pimlico Race Course.
Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg, a Democrat, is a member of the Maryland House of Delegates representing Baltimore’s 41st District. He can be reached at www.delsandy.com.