Let’s applaud all those who scratched out a survival plan for the Preakness Stakes to remain at Pimlico Race Course, while realizing that a single day’s worth of horse racing might be the least important aspect of the deal.
Emotionally, it’s a signal that the city of Baltimore hasn’t taken another punch to its midsection (and its self-respect.) The Preakness helps this city feel good about itself. Politically, the deal says we have a mayor who’s got more game than some people suspected.
But most of all, the arrangement that was brokered last week – pending an OK in Annapolis – indicates that all parties understand that this Northwest Baltimore property is too valuable to be defined by a horse race alone.
For all those neighborhoods just below the track, along Park Heights Avenue and Reisterstown Road, it’s a signal that maybe the city’s going to get serious about rehabilitating those undernourished communities, which have been neglected while falling apart for nearly half a century.
For all those neighborhoods just above the track, which are middle-class, multi-racial and thriving, but nervous about Pimlico’s future – it’s a signal of stability.
The track’s future, and the surrounding areas, are inextricably tied together.
Never mind, for a moment, the Preakness race itself. Or the millions of dollars now in place to demolish and rebuild the ancient clubhouse and grandstand. And never mind that the bulk of Maryland racing will shift almost entirely to Laurel Park, while Pimlico’s reduced to a few weeks of live action.
What’s more important is that Pimlico will be put to year-round use, and that private developers can build new housing and commercial buildings and such amenities as a new public library there.
When Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young first sat down with Belinda Stronach, president of the Stronach Group which owns Pimlico and Laurel, he was only days into the job he inherited after former Mayor Catherine Pugh’s “Healthy Holly” book scandal.
The Stronach people seemed ready to give up on Pimlico. Whatever chemistry Stronach and Young found in each other, and whatever guidance they got from the lawyers and accountants and architects (and political leaders such as Del. Sandy Rosenberg) advising them, it’s clear there were grownups in the room.
It’s the Preakness horse race that got the big headlines. But it’s the rest of the property, and the imagination and intelligence that can bring it to life, that’s the real story here.
Whatever the future of thoroughbred horse racing – let’s face it, it hasn’t been a major player in America’s sporting culture for decades, and its future is uncertain – those neighborhoods around the track will go on living.
The new deal says life just got more promising for that entire section of town – and, by extension, the whole city.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books, most recently “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age” (Johns Hopkins University Press).