I like Del. Sandy Rosenberg’s optimism, if not his odds.
The track’s located in Rosenberg’s Northwest Baltimore home district. The Preakness is part of the city of Baltimore’s DNA. But the track is owned by the Stronach Group, whose heart (and wallet) lies elsewhere. The company has made little secret that it’s eyeing its Laurel Park racetrack as the great Triple Crown race’s future home.
Rosenberg’s basing his optimism – if that’s not overusing the word – on a report due next month from the Maryland Stadium Authority, whose emphasis reportedly will be on ways to improve the aging Pimlico facility and keep the Preakness here.
“It’s been everybody’s commitment that that would be the focus of our discussion…to look at what the stadium authority has recommended,” Rosenberg told WBAL.
The goal, he said, is “keeping the Preakness at Pimlico in a way that benefits the [Maryland] Jockey Club, the racing industry, the city, the neighborhoods surrounding the racetrack, as well as the Baltimore region, which benefits from having the Preakness here, instead of having it moved to Laurel, where people would stay in Washington hotels, instead of Baltimore or Towson hotels.”
As Rosenberg knows, hotel profits are the least of the problems.
In the short run, there are estimates that Pimlico needs about $300 million in physical improvements. The track only has about a dozen live racing dates a year now, though it’s open routinely for closed-circuit TV viewing, and wagering, on out-of-town races.
Who’s going to invest $300 million for a handful of racing dates? A private corporation? A city of Baltimore that flirts with financial chaos every year? A state of Maryland where the governor has only peripheral interest in Baltimore?
But it’s the long run that’s the real problem. If the Preakness moves to Laurel, there’s no reason to keep Pimlico open. If the track shuts down, what happens to the property?
That’s the concern of neighborhoods in Northwest Baltimore that surround the track – those neighborhoods below the track, which have fallen into shabby disrepair over the past half-century while empty promises are made about fixing up both the track and the surrounding areas; and those neighborhoods above the track, where residents wonder about the fallout if the track were to close.
Among other attributes, the track is perceived as a buffer zone between the stable neighborhoods on one side of the track, and the social problems on the other side.
So it’s nice to hear Del. Rosenberg’s optimism about Pimlico and the Preakness. But there are lots of people checking the odds and wondering what’s waiting at the finish line.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent book, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” published by the Johns Hopkins University Press, is now in paperback.