De Francis says he's committed to renovating Pimlico racetrack

May 20, 1999|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,SUN STAFF

Joseph A. De Francis told a meeting of Northwest Baltimore residents last night that he is committed to renovating his badly deteriorated Pimlico Race Course with or without public funds.

Asked if the fabled but faltering home of the Preakness was in danger of being closed or moved out of the area, De Francis said, "Not while I'm alive."

As head of the Maryland Jockey Club -- which owns and operates tracks at Pimlico, Laurel and Bowie -- De Francis has until June 15 to submit renovation plans for all three tracks to Gov. Parris N. Glendening and leading state legislators for approval. At stake is $10 million in state grants to increase purses at Maryland thoroughbred and Standardbred tracks.

Pimlico is apparently at the center of De Francis' plans -- "It's place in racing lore is priceless," he has said -- and to help his cause he needs the blessing of the community.

With a few reservations, most of the 50 or so people who attended last night's meeting sponsored by the Northwest Baltimore Corp. at Arlington Elementary School in the Pimlico community were supportive.

The general feeling seemed to be that what was good for the track economically would be good for the Pimlico area. Several people, both residents and merchants, sought promises from De Francis that he would share the wealth if renovations succeeded in resuscitating racing in the city.

Responding to a complaint that the shabby exterior of a racetrack wall along Belvedere Avenue was hurting business in Lower Park Heights, De Francis said: "That's something we can [fix] right now."

Holding the floor for well over an hour, De Francis spoke in general terms about plans to demolish old barns and consolidate all stabling at the back end of the track along Belvedere Avenue; create a garden and picnic area near a renovated paddock; design a new entrance off of Northern Parkway as the track's main access; and attempt to acquire privately-owned properties around the track to decrease negative impact on the immediate neighborhood.

De Francis, who has owned Pimlico for 10 years, would not estimate, even in vague terms, what any of the improvements might cost.

Other ideas discussed included a theme restaurant such as ESPN-Zone and a racing museum or exhibit representing the wide range of cultures that are found in Northwest Baltimore.

Pub Date: 5/20/99

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