Now that the Maryland Thoroughbred Racetrack Operating Authority has recommended consolidating day-to-day racing at Pimlico and closing Laurel Park in 2027, it’s up to the Maryland legislature to take the next step and approve the plan.
What will happen in Annapolis is anybody’s guess. The legislature is expected to focus much of its attention this year on a projected $1.1 billion budget shortfall for fiscal 2025 that may or may not be accurate, depending on how closely lawmakers adhere to Gov. Moore’s balancing proposals.
A decision to close Laurel Park would impact the horsemen who live and work there, but there would also be some consequences — and potential opportunities — for Anne Arundel County.
Greg Cross, chairman of the MTROA, discussed details of the Authority’s report on Jan. 5, the day it was delivered to the General Assembly.
The MTROA recommends transitioning the Preakness to Laurel Park in 2025 and 2026 while Pimlico is rebuilt, and closing Laurel Park in 2027 when Pimlico becomes the new home for Maryland racing. It also foresees the necessity for a separate training facility due to stabling space constraints at Pimlico.
The Stronach Group would retain ownership of both the Preakness Stakes and the black-eyed Susan Stakes. A new nonprofit authority to be established by the Maryland Stadium Authority would operate the stakes races under a licensing agreement with The Stronach Group.
In return, TSG has indicated it is willing to transfer ownership of Pimlico to the state, pending legislative and other approvals.
The good news, Cross said, is that lawmakers already earmarked $375 million in bonds for thoroughbred racing track modernization in 2020.
“Dedicating the money to Pimlico and the training facility allows us to fit squarely within the budget allocation that already exists and not ask for more money,” he said. “It also allows us not to make any compromises.”
The Pimlico Plus model favored in the MTROA’s report calls for construction of a new track, clubhouse, and stables for approximately 700 horses, and would include a separate 1,000-seat-capacity event space, 2,000-space parking garage, and a private hotel. Public entities would also construct workforce housing for horsemen in the Park Heights community.
A training location still to be selected would provide barns and stables for approximately 650 horses, dormitory housing, and veterinary facilities.
On Jan. 11, the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association hosted a community meeting between its membership and the MTROA to discuss the recommendations and allow members to ask questions.
According to the Daily Racing Form, which covered the members-only meeting, housing proximity constitutes one of the foremost concerns for horsemen, many of whom are employed under the H-2B Visa program and do not own vehicles.
Alan Foreman, legal counsel for the MTHA, represented the horsemen on the MTROA and is encouraging them to support the recommendation.
The closure of Laurel Park would carry some financial consequences for Anne Arundel County and the surrounding jurisdictions that receive community impact fees when there is live racing or simulcast racing at Laurel Park.
It’s a relatively small amount for Howard County and the City of Laurel, but Anne Arundel County receives more than $357,000 each year.
Still, it’s Anne Arundel County that would benefit most from the racetrack’s closure.
“We see opportunity for collaboration with both the County and the private sector on future development there should the Pimlico Plus plan come to fruition,” said Amy Gowan, president and CEO of the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp.
Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman said the Greater Washington Partnership’s Transit Oriented Development study identified Laurel Park as a prime TOD candidate site.
“We kept hoping that revitalization at the racetrack would drive the revitalization of MD-198, but the way things are now, nothing’s happening there,” he said. “If track redevelopment does happen, that should help MD-198, and its revitalization would be a public process that engages the community.”
As it happens, Anne Arundel County is currently in the midst of a planning process for Region 2, where the track is located, making it an opportune time to explore potential future use there, Gowan said.
“Since the site is privately owned, lead time is necessary to establish a long-term redevelopment plan, ensure zoning achieves desired outcomes, plan for needed infrastructure, and secure financing,” she said, meaning potential closure in 2027 would enable a more seamless transition.
Then again, any large-scale high-density redevelopment of Laurel Park would likely necessitate upgrading MARC’s Laurel Park Station platform to accommodate higher passenger volumes.
“That’s a potential challenge and something that would need to be negotiated with CSX,” Pittman said, considering that service to that station is currently limited and an upgrade would result in three commuter rail stops near each other.
In a joint statement, The Stronach Group, Maryland Jockey Club and MTROA indicated they were all on board with the MTROA report’s recommendations.
“ (We) remain deeply committed to reinvigorating thoroughbred racing in Maryland,” said Belinda Stronach, chairwoman, CEO and president of TSG. “This framework agreement represents an important first step in that process.”