Pimlico A Poor Use for Funding

By Corey Johns.

I love sports – I was a sportswriter for years, even owning my own sports news website covering all local events. Covering the Preakness was always a true highlight of the year. The Preakness means so much to Baltimore, and the tradition of 149 years in Baltimore is just truly remarkable.

After negotiations to try to keep the Preakness in Baltimore at the historic Pimlico racetrack seemed completely dead, it was very impressive when out of nowhere Mayor Jack Young announced an agreement to renovate the park to keep the race in the city rather than seeing it move to Laurel Park.

But as much as I love sports and as much as I love the Preakness and love its history, a price tag of $424 million in renovations to both Pimlico and Laurel Park to convince the privately-owned Stronach Group is not what the city or state should be spending on. The agreement needs to be ratified by the Maryland state legislature as multiple changes to state law are needed to make it possible. Should it be ratified, The Stronach Group would sign a lease for a minimum of 30 years to use the property for two months a year, keeping the race in Baltimore. Pimlico’s grandstand and clubhouse would be demolished and rebuilt and the track would be rotated 30 degrees to create room for some land to be sold for private development.

The breakdown of the $424 million would see Pimlico receiving $199.5 million while Laurel Park would receive $173.4 million for various renovations.

A concept design by the Maryland Stadium Authority of a renovated Pimlico Racetrack, featuring a variety of multi-use being added to the site.

Closely following sports for as long as I did, I got tired of seeing billionaires get millions of state tax revenue so they could host various events for profit.

What group of people has more money than racehorse owners? The jockey clubs and horse racing associations should be paying to fix the site, not Baltimore and not Maryland.

We see issues with billion-dollar sports organizations using their leverage of having a fun attractive event far too much, but lately, cities have been pushing back. The Minnesota Vikings tried to get most of U.S. Bank Stadium funded by the state government, but the legislature held pat, and ultimately team owner Zygy Wilf ended up paying for most of it.

The state of Florida was very well known for not paying for stadiums until they finally did and paid for Marlins Park. The deal went so badly it led to lawsuits and investigations by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Ultimately, not paying for a new football stadium has lost the city of Oakland their football team, with the Raiders set to move to Las Vegas in 2020, but how can the local government of Oakland, California be blamed for saying they are more focused on funding education and providing their citizens with basic needs than they are focused on building a football stadium that gets used a few times a year?

When it comes to the Preakness, it is not even a few days a year—it is two days a year with one day as the major focus. According to a study by Crossroads Consulting that was commissioned by Baltimore City and the State of Maryland, the Preakness brings in a total of $5,002,000 per year under ideal conditions (the Kentucky Derby winner is racing and weather is good). Just more than half of that is revenue for the city with the rest being revenue for the state.

With a $424 million overall price tag, and about $5 million in tax revenue being generated from the Preakness, it would take about 84 years for the state to recoup the money. There are other windfalls of some local economic booms from hotel rentals to restaurant visits, but a city with over 22-percent of citizens living in poverty, wide-spread battles of drug addiction, and kids still in classrooms without heat or air conditioning, $424 million to host a horse race is not what should be prioritized. Keeping the Preakness would be amazing, but doing so also has to make sense. In this case, it does not.

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