BOWIE – The Stronach Group told the Bowie City Council that it plans to start construction projects at both their Laurel Park and Bowie Race Track sites in October to establish a new “super track” system that can handle the addition of higher-profile races.
During the City Council meeting on March 18, officials confirmed the joint plan of redevelopment on both courses would take place after the Maryland Million race on Oct. 19 as long as the General Assembly passes two funding bills that can help support the project.
The redevelopment announcement comes as the Baltimore City Council, Mayor Catherine Pugh and city residents filed a lawsuit to keep the Preakness, one of the three horse races in the Triple Crown series, at its current site in the Pimlico Race Course.
According to the preliminary plans that were presented, construction would begin in October at Laurel Park which sits less than two miles outside the city of Laurel and on the edge of the Prince George’s County borders inside Howard County.
The venue has gone through a $20 million renovation in 2016 when it finished improving the grandstand, updated entryway, new barns and the addition of self-serving betting machines.
According to Sal Sinatra, vice president and general manager of the Stronach-owned Maryland Jockey Club, the organization is looking to host the Breeders Cup first, and premier seating would need to be added at the 107-year old venue.
“Maryland racing has had somewhat of a revival,” Sinatra said. “… I am a racing guy, and I am really excited about this; this has become my pet project.”
Bowie Race Track would be a part of the redevelopment projects, reopening as a “world-class training center,” officials say. The race track, which has been closed as a training facility since 2015 and has not hosted a race since the 1980s, would have newer dorms for jockeys and install newer racing surfaces for horses, including a synthetic track next to the dirt track.
“The need for Bowie arises whether Pimlico stays as a venue for the Preakness or something else happens there,” Attorney Michael Johansen said. “Those horses need to come from somewhere including the ones currently at Pimlico; as Laurel gets developed, Bowie is the natural place for long-term training.”
The plans presented could continue according to plan only if two State House bills pass before the session ends on April 8. The first bill sponsored by Senator Douglas J. J. Peters (District 23-Prince George’s) would add Bowie as a facility eligible to receive state revenues from the Racetrack Facility Renewal Account (RFRA) for capital construction projects.
The second bill would allow the state to issue $80 million worth of bonds to Laurel and $40 million to Bowie to start the renovations. The bill, sponsored by Senator Pamela Beidle (District 32-Anne Arundel), would allow Stronach to pay back the state through slot machine revenues that would be used for improvements for the other race tracks in the state.
The total cost of the renovation projects would be $120 million, and it would be completed in 18 months. No permits have been applied for the renovations, according to Johansen.
“The state funding for a race track facility trickles in about $8 million a year,” Johansen said. “To do a $120 million project in about an 18-month period, we are trying to push forward those funds, matched by the Stronach Group, in an effort to get those projects started and completed in that short period of time.”
However, the lawsuit by Baltimore City officials may delay the process as they look to seize control of Pimlico, ask state officials to limit funds to Stronach and block any move of the Preakness.
According to the lawsuit, the city will be financially hurt and losing the race would be “detrimental to the city” if jobs are moved to Prince George’s and Anne Arundel Counties.
The lawsuit also argues that the Stronach Group would be breaking state law that prohibits moving the Preakness because of the absence of a disaster or emergency. The Maryland Stadium Authority released a study in December 2018, stating if Pimlico was renovated, it cost of the whole project would cost $424 million.
However, the study did not say how the funds to do the project would be collected, who would pay for the renovation and no new updated training facility at Pimlico, said Johansen. The setup of the super track plan with Bowie and Laurel would be much closer for trainers and horses to travel compared to Pimlico and another track.
If the two funding bills pass, the provision blocking the move of The Preakness would be changed, and the projects would start as scheduled, said Johansen.
Bowie City Council officials supports the redevelopment of the track and expressed the continued desire to be informed on the ongoing changes. City and Stronach officials also supported the idea of doing more at the Bowie site once the project is completed including using free green space for recreational uses and having silent firework shows on Independence Day.
“Horse racing is our history,” Bowie Mayor G. Frederick Robinson said. “We want to work with you guys and hope that this develops into a world-class training center; that is the goal, and that is our standard.”