By Mark F. Gray
Baltimore may have to rely on the CIAA Basketball Tournament to recoup whatever the city may lose in tourism dollars if the Preakness moves to Laurel in 2021. Despite pleas to keep the second jewel of the Triple Crown in Charm City, Laurel Race Track appears to be the choice of The Stronach Group, who owns both venues, but wants grow the track that sits on the edge of Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties into a “super track” in the near future.
Baltimore acting Mayor Jack Young implored the state legislature last week to quash a bill that would continue funding for the Stronach Group, who has been guaranteed $87.2 million in Gov. Hogan’s 2019 budget to spend on racing facilities. However, according to reports, the company has spent $14.3 million at Laurel and only $1.4 million at Pimlico.
The premiere HBCU basketball tournament traditionally brings an impact of $50 million to the city of Charlotte, who Baltimore won the bid from in February. If the Preakness moves 26 miles south and the basketball tournament proves successful, the tourism and hospitality impact could prove to be negligible.
However, Baltimore’s loss may be Laurel’s gain. Laurel could possibly get a boost from the Stronach Group’s plans to consolidate its facilities there and they have been very public about wanting to turn Laurel Race Track into an entertainment destination whether the Preakness moves or not. The group has made it known that it would like to host the Breeders Cup at the track, but that would require state lawmakers to approve an additional $120 million for upgrades at the property.
The state’s 2019 budget allocation to use on racing facilities comes from a state Racetrack Facility Renewal Account that is paid through casino slot games.
According to reports, the Maryland Stadium Authority estimates repairs and new construction around Pimlico would cost $434 million. Laurel Race Track needs $120 million to repair the barn area, modernize the clubhouse and relocate the wetlands on the property, but the Stronach Group wants the state to provide that money too.
However, Laurel also has its own concerns. Residents of the community have traditionally complained they weren’t interested in dealing with more traffic in the area where MD Rt. 198 extends from Fort Meade past Baltimore Washington Parkway to US Rt. 1. The two lane roadways in each direction have become congested in recent years thanks to housing communities being constructed and the emphasis on retail business.
“It would probably mean things get tighter in the area,” said Mr. W., a 30-year resident from Baltimore who didn’t want to be identified by the AFRO since he’s a government contractor. “I could see it benefitting the area because there’s a lot of redevelopment going on around here. I would hate to see the Preakness leave Baltimore though.”
The race track has also been under scrutiny from Maryland Jockey Club and state lawmakers, who have been evaluating conditions for employees who live there. Baltimore state Delegate Nick Mosby and Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman lead a contingent that toured the facility on April 5.
However, if bringing Breeder’s Cup races to Maryland truly is a goal, each of Maryland’s century old racing facilities needs major renovations. Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., home of the Kentucky Derby, and Belmont Park in New York, which hosts the Belmont Stakes are entertainment venues with activities that attract more than gamblers who bet on races.
“I support improvement of Laurel and turning that into an entertainment destination, regardless of whether the Preakness moves,” Pittman said.
This article originally appeared in The Afro.