Pimlico, city accept plan for repairs

Preakness to be run on schedule if owners fix safety violations

`Significant progress'

Green light given for luxury skyboxes, barn renovations

March 18, 2000|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

The Preakness will be run May 20 as scheduled, city housing officials say, if the owners of Pimlico Race Course complete the steps in a proposal given to the city this week to remedy fire-code violations at the 130-year-old Baltimore track.

Housing officials, who had threatened to sue the track's owners because of the violations found a year ago, told the city Planning Commission on Thursday that their concerns were resolved after several meetings over the past two weeks.

"If you comply with [these requirements] on May 19, you're good to go on May 20," said Zack Germroth, a spokesman for the housing department. "They are making significant progress."

"Of the 10 violations, eight are met or are being met as we speak," said Bob DiPietro, executive vice president for Maryland Jockey Club, which owns Pimlico. "And the other two issues we will continue to work on. Everything is going along fine. By Preakness Day we will be in good shape."

The housing department also wanted the planning commission to block a proposal for track improvements, including new horse barns and portable luxury skyboxes, until the safety improvements were completed.

"They have come to closure on all of the issues," said Charles C. Graves, the city's planning director. "They can move ahead with renovation of the barns and the skyboxes."

Each year, the Preakness attracts 100,000 fans, with the grandstand holding about 25,000 spectators. This year will be the 125th running of the thoroughbred race.

To ensure the fans' safety, the Jockey Club has installed the exit signs and emergency lighting that the housing department demanded, Graves said.

The track's owners also promised to enclose stairwells for safety, add 36 doors and reconfigure the grandstand to meet required aisle widths by May 19, the day before the Preakness, he said.

Although inspectors said Pimlico needs a sprinkler system, one will not be installed for the Preakness. Instead, track owners plan to hire fire department personnel to ensure safety during the races.

The improvements are much needed for a track that, according to officials at the 113-acre race course, has not had major improvements since 1954.

During a meeting March 2, Planning Commission members voiced anger that track operators would seek to improve comfort for high-stakes gamblers with portable skyboxes while other bettors would have to sit in an unsafe grandstand.

In another matter, the Planning Commission rejected a $2 million renovation plan for the city police department's headquarters. Commission members said the department's design plans were incomplete, and they feared cost overruns.

Sun staff writer Allison Klein contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 3/18/00

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