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Could Sports Tourism Help Save the Preakness?

16 Oct, 2019

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

It’s moving. It’s staying. It’s being cancelled. The middle jewel in thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown – let’s face it, pretty much the only thing that makes the mainstream audience pay attention to the sport – has been the source of much contention, as owners of the current track, Pimlico Racecourse, have tried to get the city to renovate the dilapidated, outdated venue in order to keep the race in town. The latest plan, announced last week, just might do that. Bonus: it includes sports tourism.

According to an article in The Baltimore Sun, the multi-point plan proposed by the Stronach Group, the track’s owners, includes the following:

Yes, the race will stay at Pimlico. In fact, the Preakness would be part of a spring meet that would take place at Pimlico. The Stronach Group and the Maryland Jockey Club would own the lease, good for 30 years – with extensions that could keep the race in Baltimore indefinitely. (It wasn’t immediately clear what other events would be included in the spring meet.)

And Pimlico could wind up being used for sport tourism as well. The Preakness, including not just the race but ancillary activities, takes up about a month. Expect that venue to host other activities, including maybe even sports tourism. The Sun article notes, “Stronach’s drawings show athletic fields filling the inside of the track oval. The plan’s creators envision tournaments, community festivals and other events throughout the year.” Should this option be adopted, it could help reverse the fortunes of the surrounding neighborhood, which is less economically prosperous than other areas of Baltimore.

The entire Pimlico parcel would change hands: Under the deal, Stronach would donate the Pimlico property to Baltimore City or a city-created entity, and some outlying parts of the property could be sold off for development.

Lots of venue renovations are coming: The racetrack itself would be re-oriented to help sell off nearby parcels of land and create the use of adjacent space for the athletic fields and other facilities. The current clubhouse and grandstands would be demolished and rebuilt. The article in the Sun notes, “A new clubhouse could be used for non-racing activities the rest of the year. Temporary seating would be brought in to accommodate Preakness crowds, which officials said might be smaller than in recent years.”

But even with those renovations, the race would stay at Pimlico. According to officials, changes to the venue would have to work around the Preakness and would not result in the race being moved, postponed or cancelled at any time.

The infield might be out: The infield of Pimlico, which has become the home of raucous partying before, during and after the race, is not necessarily going to continue – which comes as a relief to the adult crowd (as well as the law enforcement crowd), since the InfieldFest was originally set up to have just bands and DJs but has since degenerated into less than desirable activities. In fact, the renderings put out by Stronach show additional seating and tents inside the Pimlico oval – but not necessarily an infield party space. Officials say they’re rethinking when the best time would be to throw a big concert — maybe not on race day.

Not just Pimlico would receive an update: Laurel Park, another horse racing venue in Maryland owned by Stronach, would benefit from the deal. The park, which unlike Pimlico, hosts racing year-round, would get more stabling for horses as well as a new club house.

Nobody will be surprised that this is going to be expensive – or that there is some pushback already: The plan is estimated to cost $375.5 million, and changes would need to be made to existing state laws in order for everything to come together, something that has been raising concerns among those who know the many forces pressuring lawmakers when it comes to the state’s finances.

And it's not without drama: Frank Stronach is also in the midst of trying to force his daughter, Belinda, out of the family business

One thing is for certain – we haven’t heard the last of this. Sports Destination Management will continue to follow this developing issue. The next running of the Preakness Stakes is planned for Saturday, May 16, 2020 and it's likely there will be plenty of news between now and then.

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