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Maryland Stadium Authority Releases Pimlico Study

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The Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA) released its Phase I study of future considerations for Pimlico Race Course on Feb. 24. The study recommends a slate of renovations and enhancements required for the facility to remain operational and viable as the long-term home of the Preakness Stakes.

Speaking at a Greater Baltimore Committee breakfast on Feb. 27, MSA Chairman Thomas Kelso said the estimate of $250≠$320 million for renovations focuses on an ideal outcome given the constraints of the current facility. “It does not include any spending that would need to be done outside of the race track for infrastructure,” he said.

The study identifies outdated technology and restrooms, inadequate lighting and seating, accessibility issues, security buffers, fire alarm and protection systems, ceiling repair and entryway upgrades as among the essential improvements needed at Pimlico.

Relocation of the saddling paddock to provide adequate space for people and horses is also deemed essential, as are upgrades to electrical and mechanical equipment, and utilities.

“The good news is that we now know you can make this facility, in some measure, competitive with [Churchill Downs and Belmont Park],” Kelso said. “It still doesn’t get you where you want to go from an ideal standpoint, but it begins to clarify what the magnitude of investment at this facility would ultimately bring.”

The cost of a complete rebuild will be considered in the second phase of the study, which could be complete by the end of 2017 and possibly result in legislative action during the Maryland General Assembly’s 2018 session to authorize a financing mechanism for renovating or rebuilding Pimlico.

Depending on how in-depth the Phase II study needs to be and any additional information that stakeholders may ask for, however, Kelso said he doubts the MSA can complete it for $105,000 as agreed upon in the original Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2012.

“My guess is that would lead to a Phase III,” he said.

Tim Ritvo, COO for the Canada-based Stronach Group, which owns Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park, observed that the customer experience at the Preakness continues to deteriorate compared to the experience at Churchill Downs, which has invested heavily in the Kentucky Derby.

“I think the first phase falls a little bit short of what Baltimore deserves,” Ritvo said. “There are many more questions to be answered in Phase II. We stand behind the city if they have the will and we will operate the Preakness where it stands, but there will need to be significant investment to make that happen.”