Schmoke expresses concern for Pimlico Mayor says suggestion that track could close is not an 'idle threat'

August 17, 1996|By Michael Dresser and Jon Morgan | Michael Dresser and Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke warned yesterday that it would be "unwise" for the state to treat as "an idle threat" Pimlico owner Joseph A. De Francis' suggestion that he could be forced to close the historic racetrack.

"To lose the Preakness and close Pimlico would be a very significant economic body blow to the community," Schmoke said. "With about 1,000 jobs on the line at Pimlico, I do not ignore that threat at all."

But the recent media blitz in which De Francis has predicted a grim future for the Northwest Baltimore track appeared to be making little impression on Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

The governor said he has seen no evidence that the racing industry is in distress, and he would not speculate on whether the state would contribute money to any effort to rebuild Pimlico.

"Bottom line, it seems to me the Maryland racing industry is doing quite well," Glendening said.

He and Schmoke were interviewed yesterday at the Maryland Association of Counties convention in Ocean City. They were responding to comments by De Francis this week that he needs help from the state or he could be forced to close Pimlico and sell or move the famed Preakness Stakes.

At a news conference yesterday at Pimlico, De Francis reiterated his desire for unspecified state assistance now that Glendening has said he would veto any bill allowing the tracks to install profit-boosting slot machines.

"It is our strongest and sincerest desire to keep the facility here and keep it viable and keep the Preakness here," said the track operator, who inherited Pimlico and Laurel from his father, Frank J. De Francis.

"I cannot conceive of the De Francis name being associated with the demise of Pimlico," he added.

The younger De Francis said he has instructed aides to prepare a business plan that suggests a course of action independent of state assistance.

$80 million renovation plan

"Everything will be on the table," De Francis said. "I have no idea what it will say."

De Francis had drawn up an $80 million renovation plan for Pimlico premised on obtaining permission for slots.

In the absence of that, De Francis has said, the governor should come up with some other means of aid from the state.

"We would like the government to treat us with the same deference that they have treated Major League Baseball and the NFL," De Francis said, referring to the state's decision to pay for Oriole Park and a new stadium for the National Football League Ravens at Camden Yards.

In Ocean City, Schmoke said the state should not repeat the mistake Baltimore made when it lost the Colts.

"Ignoring this threat would be unwise because we ignored Bob Irsay, too, and just thought it would never happen and it did," Schmoke said.

Irsay, the Colts owner, moved the team to Indianapolis in the dead of night after Baltimore rebuffed his demand for a new stadium.

'Premature to panic'

However, Glendening said yesterday that it would be "premature to panic" just because racecourses in Delaware are enjoying higher profits as a result of the introduction of slot machines in December.

Glendening said he would be willing to work with the legislature to craft a solution if evidence showed Maryland's racing industry was being hurt by competition from Delaware.

But he reiterated his opposition to any solution involving slot machines here.

"No plan can come to me that has any component of casinos or slots or anything that looks like a casino," Glendening said.

Pub Date: 8/17/96

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