Magna Unveils Construction Plans for Laurel, Pimlico

Magna Entertainment Corp., majority owner of the Maryland Jockey Club, has unveiled what it says is the first phase of an overall plan to rebuild Pimlico and Laurel Park from the ground up - grandstands, racing surfaces and stable areas.

Jim McAlpine, president of Magna, said May 7 the initial phase will cost $46 million and include building new stables and a training track at Laurel. That will be completed by December 2005, he said. After that, he said, the racing surfaces and grandstand will be rebuilt at Laurel. Then, Magna will similarly overhaul Pimlico, he said.

He declined to speculate on a timetable for plans beyond phase one. But he said Magna is committed to rebuilding the tracks with or without slot machines.

"If slots don't come, this stands," McAlpine said of the long-range plan. "If they do come, that accelerates the process."

McAlpine appeared before the Maryland Racing Commission at its monthly meeting at Pimlico. His charge was to tell commissioners how Magna would fulfill its agreement with the commission to spend $15 million on track improvements.

The commission insisted on the agreement as a condition of its approval last fall of Magna's purchase of a controlling interest in the Maryland Jockey Club. The first $5 million of that $15 million is to be spent by the end of August.

When McAlpine said only $2.3 million would be spent by that time, it appeared the meeting would turn rancorous as last month's meeting had. Then, commissioners lashed out at Magna over what they perceived as the company's failure to take seriously its agreement with the commission.

"I'm going to be looking for $5 million by the end of the August," Terry Saxon, a commissioner, said. "It WILL total $5 million."

McAlpine said Magna had been preoccupied with trying to bring slot machines to racetracks and with devising construction plans for accommodating them.

"I am asking for your indulgence," he told commissioners. "From our planning standpoint, we did get behind. But we're no less committed than we've ever been."

McAlpine avoided a showdown by agreeing to place in escrow whatever money was necessary to total $5 million by Aug. 31. That satisfied Saxon. Other commissioners praised Magna's plan.

"This is a tremendous improvement in the facility at Laurel," said commissioner John Franzone. "And it's certainly a believable plan without slot machines."

Said Lou Ulman, commission chairman: "It's looks like we're making a good step in the right direction."

The new stables at Laurel will be built across Brock Bridge Road on land the Maryland Jockey Club already owns. The barns will accommodate 1,450 stalls. Currently, about 1,000 horses are stabled at Laurel.

A training track will be built inside the current racing surface to accommodate the additional horses. The current stables at Laurel will be turned into a parking lot, according to the plan.

Six dorm buildings for backstretch workers and a track kitchen will also be built, McAlpine said. The project will be modeled after the Palm Meadows Training Center that Magna recently constructed in South Florida.

Trainers who stabled there this winter praised the facility. McAlpine described it as "the future, today."

When a new grandstand is built at Laurel it will be constructed on the opposite side of the track from the current grandstand, McAlpine said. Entrances will be off Brock Bridge Road and Rt. 198.

McAlpine said no decision had been made yet on whether to refurbish the Bowie Training Center or sell it and build a new training center.