Pimlico Deal Is The Mess We Always Knew It Would Be
The project was always a politically connected boondoggle to fund a legacy sport that nobody really cares about in Maryland but one day a year. It's time to cut bait.
Remember the Pimlico Deal from a few years back? The one that got the Maryland Stadium Authority involved in commercial redevelopment at Pimlico?
With a late budget maneuver, Maryland lawmakers are forcing a hard look at a three-year-old scheme to redevelop Pimlico Race Course, home of the middle jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown.
The Maryland Senate voted to strip out a House of Delegates amendment from the state budget Wednesday that would have withheld $17 million from the Maryland Stadium Authority unless required agreements for the project — which also includes redevelopment of the track at Laurel Park — are signed in the next seven months.
The action, which is still subject to a final vote in the Senate, ensures that a budget conference committee made up of members from both chambers will attempt to come together with a unified approach to spur the stalled plan to improve horse racing in the state.
Here we are, three years after the massive Pimlico deal was signed, and they haven’t even put pen to paper yet on the way to so much as break ground on the redevelopment projects.
Also, the cost has already doubled:
Since the legislature approved the complicated track plan in 2020, the cost has nearly doubled from the initial $375 million estimates, while little concrete progress has been made outside of multiple revisions to the original concept and note of the ever-rising costs. Those estimates have been driven up by a combination of inflation, rising interest rates, supply chain issues and site redesigns.
None of this should be a surprise to you. Some of us knew long ago that the Pimlico deal was bad news for the state and for taxpayers:
There is no compelling state interest in issuing hundreds of millions of dollars in bonds simply for the sake of holding a horse race once a year at Pimlico. What’s more absurd is that the bond issue would be given to Stronach to both rebuild Pimlico and to refurbish Laurel Park, which is unrelated to the Preakness. These bond issues will cost the taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in bond service.
It’s a tough pill to swallow, but the state of Maryland has no real interest in maintaining the Preakness at Pimlico. It is an institution, a historic event, and part of the fabric of Baltimore’s culture. But the money that Baltimore and track owners want the state to pay is needed for other priorities.
It was a bad deal in 2019, when I wrote that. It was a bad deal when the General Assembly adopted it during the first days of the COVID Pandemic. And it is a bad deal now. The project was always a politically connected boondoggle to fund a legacy sport that nobody really cares about in Maryland but one day a year. If there was interest in funding this project, the Stronach Group would have already found the money for it external of state funding. But there is no private sector interest in this project because racing at Pimlico is not sustainable and is a waste of money.
Why should the state keep throwing good money after bad?
Two years ago, I wrote that the General Assembly should extricate itself from the Pimlico deal. Since no ground has been broken and since the involved parties just can’t get their act together, I have no confidence in any party involved in this to make right on the agreement Stronach and the General Assembly made three years ago. It is time to cut bait and reallocate the funds dedicated to wasteful horse racing redevelopment into something else; preferably a tax cut for Maryland’s struggling middle class that Wes Moore wants to tax into poverty.