Back in the day, musical wunderkind and Grammy-winning singer, songwriter, musician, arranger and producer, Sylvester Stewart, better known as Sly, of Sly and The Family Stone, performed one of his many hit songs, Family Affair, where he described a mother’s two very different children. One child was said to be someone who just loved to learn, while the other child was someone you’d just love to burn.
The analogy sounds spot on compared to two major horse racing venues owned by a family business, the Stronach Group, who glorifies one, Laurel Race Track, and vilifies the other, Pimlico. In the Sly Stone song, mother loved both kids. In the Pimlico versus Laurel debate, Pimlico gets no love at all.
Like most family squabbles, at the center, there is a lot of money involved. In this situation, the extended family, the City of Baltimore and the town of Laurel, are forced to take sides, and both have lots of skin in the game. If the Stronach Group is successful in its effort to lift up Laurel and orphan Pimlico, the town of Laurel will inherit potentially thousands of jobs— to include local development tied to the race track, hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity, millions more dollars in tax revenue, and the prestige of the Preakness Stakes.
The City of Baltimore will potentially inherit another abandoned business site located in another abandoned neighborhood. The struggling Park Heights community will inherit a 140-acre hole in the ground. It is obvious that one of the reasons Stronach Group prefers Laurel Park over Pimlico is Pimlico’s location in a blighted urban neighborhood.
However, anyone who can remember Baltimore City 40 years ago will recall that what is now the Inner Harbor was one of the city’s most blighted neighborhoods, home to muck, mire, sea gulls and acres of abandoned buildings. The same is true for the areas, which are now home to Orioles Park at Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium. Successful redevelopment can happen anywhere in Baltimore City where the will and commitment exists.
Like any schism in a family there are complicated issues, multiple factions and fluid circumstances involved in the Pimlico versus Laurel dispute. The Players. Baltimore City’s mayor, city council and state house delegation speak with one voice on the subject: The Preakness must remain in Baltimore. The Stronach Group. Laurel, Yes! Pimlico? Who? The governor, pre-reelection: “The Preakness should stay in Baltimore.” The governor, post-reelection: “The overwhelming number of people in Maryland don’t really care where [the Preakness] is.”
Many of the state legislators who support moving The Preakness from Pimlico to Laurel have vested interests. Compare anti-Pimlico boosters among Annapolis lawmakers from Anne Arundel, Howard and Prince George’s counties where Laurel Race Course essentially straddles all three jurisdictions. It’s been considered that Laurel has substantial land surrounding the race course which is ripe for development to support the race course or as the Stronach Group calls it, a “super track.” Pimlico has Park Heights.
Park Heights has a 14.2 percent unemployment rate and a median household income of $36,500, according to the American Community Survey, compared to Laurel’s unemployment rate of 5.7 percent and median household income of $72,726. Bowie has a 5.8 percent unemployment rate and median household income of $108,600— both are Prince George’s county communities.
Last but not least, follow the money— Pimlico’s biggest live racing handle was 2014, totaling $181,000,000. Laurel’s biggest live racing handle was 2017 totaling $627,300,000.