Submitted to the AFRO by Mayor Catherine Pugh
The Preakness has been synonymous with Baltimore and a part of our history since 1873. It is a time when Baltimore takes the world stage. It is steeped in tradition. Neighbors surrounding the Preakness look forward to the events. Some have made life-long friends. I’m certain the Stronach Group and probably most of our visitors have not observed what happens before and after the race. Families around the track have developed relationships with the yearly visitors to the track. It has become like a family reunion for many–homecoming if you will– I’ve observed. Some of the travelers have their reserved parking spaces. Of course they pay for it. In fact, they’ve reserved them in advance. They’re expected.
What happens after the Preakness is even more magnificent between those families and race goers. This is what makes Baltimore so unique. We are such a friendly city. Leaving the Preakness, these visitors head straight to those families around the track. You should hear the comrade, and see them laughing and greeting each other with hugs. Grills are fired up, and from the foot of the steps to the porch and backyard, they are laughing and joking. I never will forget the first time I observed the interactions. My first thought was I hope everyone gets home safely, but as I observed, each year safety was not a concern and seeing old friends was welcomed.
I don’t know anyone who would have thought that when the Stronach Group acquired the racetrack that they were thinking they would seek to move it outside of Baltimore. Like everyone else not familiar with this Canadian family, I’m certain the thought was a new era was being ushered in for our racetrack in light of the tradition of the Preakness at Pimlico. I’m sure most thought it represented new investment in an old track. After all, it was being acquired by billionaires. Billionaires we thought cared about people, cared about our city and cared about the history of our city– a history that has been challenging. A history that saw whole neighborhoods neglected for decades, a history that saw unemployment rise in Black neighborhoods, and crime rip lives apart in our city.
Park Heights, where the Preakness is run at Pimlico, is finally getting the attention it deserves. Sixteen acres of boarded up houses have been cleared and 17 Request for Proposals have been responded to at least twice. People in Park Heights are excited. Over 35 homes that have laid dormant and boarded are being rehabilitated with more investment to come. Park Heights is readying itself for a new library that closed more than 17 years ago, two new schools have been built, a new recreation center and another being renovated.
It is a mostly African-American community with some legitimate partners, including Lifebridge that is preparing for over a $100 million investment, bringing its headquarters there, along with a hotel and other amenities.
Pimlico also lies adjacent to a very supportive Jewish community and the middle and upper income neighborhoods of Mount Washington.
To try and snatch the Preakness from Pimlico in Park Heights when it’s undergoing a long overdue renaissance is unconscionable.
When is being fair and just the right thing to do? We know the Stronach Group is not familiar with the communities of Park Heights or the will of the people. They should not be allowed to take state dollars and push their ideas on a community because they think they can’t afford to fight back because fight we will.
The 15 years that the Stronach Group has had Pimlico they’ve shown little interest in the people, the neighborhood or the tradition of the Preakness.
Everyone paused for the year-long study to determine if the Preakness could be run in Baltimore at Pimlico. Apparently the results were not what was expected by the Stronach Group were not expecting the results. The study states, The Preakness should remain in Baltimore. Now we must work together to assure the funding. There are public private partnership models for funding and those willing to buy the track from the Stronach Group to keep the Preakness at Pimlico. If additional state dollars are to be provided to them, who’ve not made good on their commitment to the Preakness at Pimlico, those dollars should not and cannot be given without assurance that investment will be made in Pimlico and that the Preakness stays in Baltimore.
The opinions on this page are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the AFRO.
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