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A Month Before Preakness, Nearly 7,000 Seats At Pimlico Declared Unusable

AP/Patrick Semansky

One month ahead of the 2019 Preakness Stakes, Pimlico Race Course’s oldest historic seating section is being shut down after an engineering firm concluded that its 6,670 seats are “no longer suitable to sustain that level of load bearing weight” of that many fans.

The Maryland Jockey Club announced the closure, affecting nearly half of the approximately 14,000 seats in the course’s clubhouse, main grandstand, old grandstand and sports palace, over the weekend, raising more doubts about the future of the Preakness at the track known as “Old Hilltop.”

The closure of the 125-year-old Old Grandstand’s open-air section, which makes up about 17.5 percent of Pimlico’s overall seated capacity of almost 38,000, will be in effect for the Preakness and Black Eyed Susan Day.

The Stronach Group-owned Maryland Jockey Club’s announcement comes after a recent Maryland Stadium Authority study that concluded Pimlico had “reached the end of its useful life.”

In a press release, the Maryland Jockey Club said it engaged an independent engineering firm to assess how the MSA’s findings would “impact our guests on Preakness Day.” The firm, Faisant Associates, found “significant deterioration to the northern part of the grandstand, the exterior portion of the facility adjacent to the Clubhouse.”

The announcement also comes days after bills supported by Stronach that would have directed funding to its Laurel and Bowie race tracks, died in the General Assembly.

The bills were fiercely opposed by Baltimore lawmakers, including ex officio Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Mayor Catherine Pugh, who viewed the proposed legislation as a sign that Stronach hopes to move the middle jewel of the Triple Crown out of Pimlico.

Mayor Pugh, who is currently on leave amid health problems and scandal, filed a lawsuit in March to seize Pimlico from Stronach and prevent the possibility of moving the Preakness from Pimlico to Laurel.

Delegate Nick Mosby, who’s advocated for better living conditions for workers at Laurel, notes that Stronach has spent the vast bulk of $112 million in state grants for improvements at Laurel and far less at Pimlico.

“They fixed up, you know, the horse barns, they fixed up the grandstands and they've made it all glamorous and pretty on the outside,” he said. “For the spectators.”

In a press release, Stronach Group executive Bill Hecht called Faisant Associates’ findings “deeply disappointing.”

“As the safety and security is paramount to our guests and employees, this position to forego income should in no way be interpreted as anything other than that,” Hecht said.

Fans who already purchased tickets in the Old Grandstand for the Preakness and Black Eyed Susan Day have until May 1 to exchange them for new seats, the Maryland Jockey Club says.

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.