Preakness makes more sense in Laurel, Senate President Miller says

The effort to rebuild Pimlico and keep the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore appeared to take a significant blow Thursday after Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. threw his support behind moving the race to Laurel.

Miller, a Prince George’s County Democrat who is the longest- tenured Senate president in the entire U.S., said as a historian he loves Pimlico. But he also said the price tag for a possible redevelopment of the 149-year-old track is too high for a project that “does nothing for the communities around it.”

“If you’re for business and you’re for demographics, it should be in Laurel,” Miller said at the Maryland Economic Development Association’s winter conference in Annapolis.

“I’m a historian, I’d like to see it in Baltimore and keep it in Baltimore,” said Miller, a day after the opening of the 2019 Maryland General Assembly. “But guess what? It’s $400 million to knock over everything.”

Miller’s comments come almost a month after the Maryland Stadium Authority released a 73-page report showing a redevelopment of Pimlico would cost $424 million. Gov. Larry Hogan said last week the state is “very early in the process” and has “a lot of talking to do.”

The project would including razing the current track and building a new horse racing track anchored by a 360,890-square-foot multi-level clubhouse and a 29,000-square-foot off track betting parlor. The redevelopment would also include an expansion of Sinai Hospital’s campus, a new hotel and parking garage.

The state is already spending millions of dollars on building new schools in Baltimore, Miller said. He also said it’s hard for people to travel to downtown Baltimore, noting that when the University of Maryland, College Park basketball team played against Loyola University Chicago at the Royal Farms Arena in December the attendance was less than 4,000 even though the arena’s capacity is 14,000.

“It’s a lot of money,” Miller said. “If an investor wants to build it, that’s fine, but for the state to come up with $400 million without doing anything for the communities in the surrounding areas is going to be very difficult to do.”

The Stronach Group, which owns Pimlico and the Laurel race track, has said it would prefer to move the race to Laurel and would need city and state funds to help pay for a rebuild of Pimlico.

In addition to the multiple needs Baltimore has, other areas of the state have economic development needs. Miller said it will be a challenge to come up with $400 million for a race track when there is already a track in Laurel and facilities competing across the state for funding.