Rear of old grandstand at Pimlico

Rear of old grandstand at Pimlico

Tom LaMarra

Pimlico Renovation Plans Still in the Works

Maryland Jockey Club wants to make sure it can deliver before making announcements.

The Maryland Jockey Club expects to begin construction on new barns at Laurel Park this year as part of a long-term capital improvement plan, but it is holding off on announcing details of a much larger project—renovations at Pimlico Race Course.

Capital improvements at the two racetracks are part of a 10-year agreement designed to move Maryland horse racing forward given that a percentage of video lottery terminal revenue at casinos is dedicated to racing. The bulk of it—7%—goes to purses.

MJC president and chief executive officer Tom Chuckas said May 17 capital improvement money, 2.5% of gross VLT revenue, went to racetrack operations in 2012-13 as part of the deal. It will shift to the capital improvement fund beginning in 2014.

The MJC plans to build 150 stalls at Laurel this year and 150 there next year. Pimlico is slated to get 200 new stalls off Preakness Way on the regular backstretch.

"Right now we're working through it," Chuckas said. "The stalls at Laurel will be built by the end of this year if not shortly afterward. At Pimlico, we're working through the process with the local planning board."

When the new stalls are built at both tracks, stabling will end at the Bowie Training Center, which is owned by the MJC.

Extensive plans for Laurel were prepared in conjunction with a failed bid for VLTs soon after expanded gambling was approved by the Maryland legislature and voters in 2008. The Stronach Group, which does business as the MJC, earlier this year reiterated those plans: build a new grandstand on the opposite side of the Laurel racing surface and develop part of the property with retail and other amenities.

When an overall capital improvement plan was submitted to state officials earlier this year, there was mention of adding corporate suites at Pimlico, but specifics weren't available. Chuckas said the MJC still has a ways to go on the plan for the Baltimore track that hosts the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) each year.

"The biggest issue for The Stronach Group is taking a real hard look at Pimlico," Chuckas said. "We're trying to be careful not to make promises we can't deliver on. We do know this facility does not possess the assets that are needed for a Triple Crown (race).

"We're going to have new competition in 2014 with a casino in Baltimore City, so obviously that will have an impact on us. So as far as Pimlico goes, it's just a process we have to work through."

The Baltimore casino plan was approved in 2011. The lead investor is Caesars Entertainment; one of the joint-venture partners is The Stronach Group. There has been little public discussion about how the casino will work with Pimlico.