Face lift for Pimlico track

Preakness site: Track owners consult with neighborhood groups before proceeding with makeover.

May 24, 1999

EVERYONE agrees Pimlico Race Course, home of the state's biggest sports event each year -- the Preakness Stakes -- needs an overhaul. The aging, rambling facility must be made more appealing.

Pimlico's owners last week unveiled preliminary plans to community groups and local legislators. The governor will be briefed in early June. A public hearing before the Legislative Policy Committee of House and Senate leaders will follow a few weeks later.

Plans call for expanded, landscaped parking; new stables; an attractive outdoor paddock area where fans could watch horses being prepared for a race; an upscale restaurant; and upgraded viewing areas for patrons. There would also be improvements to Laurel Race Course and the Bowie training center.

None of this depends on government handouts. The track operators say they can pay for the work themselves in phases over four or five years.

If city or state loan programs are made available, the overhaul of Maryland's major racetracks could be accelerated.

(The governor and top legislators must approve these plans before $10 million in state aid for racing purses is released. That money is earmarked for winning breeders, horse owners, trainers and jockeys -- not track operators.)

All this is welcome news for the racing industry and residents of Pimlico neighborhoods, where the racetrack serves a pivotal role. Community groups have been consulted in designing the new facilities.

Given the immense importance of the Preakness race to Maryland, and the importance of the Pimlico track to the well-being of Northwest Baltimore, this effort deserves support from government leaders.

The changes could help Pimlico develop new roles as the site of a popular local restaurant, a catering hall and a meeting place for community and civic activities.

Not only would this improve the racetrack's viability, it could turn Pimlico into an appealing year-round city attraction.

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