The city of Baltimore and the Stronach Group, the owners of the historic but dilapidated Pimlico, said Friday they had come up with a way to keep the Preakness at the 149-year-old northwest Baltimore track.
Under the terms of the $375 million deal, about $200 million would be used to rebuild Pimlico Race Course, which The Stronach Group would give to the city and lease back for the Preakness. A new clubhouse would be built and the track rotated to create parcels of land that the city could sell for private development. Training and stable operations would move south to Laurel Park in Anne Arundel County, which would undergo a renovation costing approximately $175 million.
But several key elements remain unresolved. The parties have not yet drafted legislation needed to fund the bonds that would be sold to cover the cost, but they plan to do so before the next General Assembly session starts in January. The bill is expected to be complex and is tentatively dubbed the “Racing and Community Development Act of 2020.”
In an interview, Frank Stronach, 87, said he doesn’t necessarily have an issue with the deal his daughter, Stronach Group President Belinda Stronach, 53, cut with the city of Baltimore to keep the second leg of the Triple Crown at Pimlico in Park Heights. But he doesn’t like that he wasn’t consulted, believes his daughter is an illegitimate company president and wants the agreement to do much more for the Park Heights community.
“She is not the rightful owner,” Frank Stronach said. “I’ve been kept out of the loop. We would need a commitment from the state. We would need to have an urban farm, food processing plants, greenhouses. Money will not fix the poverty, only meaningful jobs.”
Frank and Belinda Stronach have been embroiled in lawsuits since last year, when he sued her in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, alleging she was diverting funds meant for projects such as his grass-fed cattle farm to support her extravagant lifestyle. His initial complaint sought $520 million Canadian — about $390 million in U.S. dollars — and asked to have his daughter, who also serves as The Stronach Group’s chairman, removed from the company.
In response, Belinda Stronach alleged Frank Stronach blew $680 million in U.S. dollars on failed “passion projects” over the years, including spending hundreds of millions on agriculture, thoroughbred horse operations, golf courses and two 12-story bronze statues of a Pegasus horse defeating a dragon.
“I started in a garage and I built up a company of 175,000 employees,” Frank Stronach said in an interview Wednesday. “I worked seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and then I got shut out of the business by my daughter in 2014.”
Alan Rifkin, a lawyer for the Stronach Group in Baltimore, said Frank Stronach can’t derail the deal because he has no controlling interest in the company.
“His lawsuit has no bearing on this plan,” Rifkin said.
In a statement, the Stronach Group also said that Frank Stronach no longer has a say in the decisions the company makes.
“While anyone is welcome to share their views on horse racing nationally or locally, Frank Stronach has no official role with, nor does he speak on behalf of, The Stronach Group or the Maryland Jockey Club,” the statement said. “TSG and MJC are fully focused on the critically important and transformative plans for Maryland racing and community development that we, along with the Maryland Thoroughbred Industry, the Mayor of Baltimore City, and the County Executives of Anne Arundel and Baltimore Counties have submitted to State leaders.”
Tiffani Steer, a spokeswoman for the Stronach Group, also said the company “does not anticipate a trial prior to 2021” in Frank Stronach’s suit, well after the General Assembly is expected to act on the Preakness deal.
Lester Davis, a spokesman for Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, said the mayor is not worried about Frank Stronach’s suit.
“We’ve had very productive conversations with the president of the company and we’re looking forward to realizing a plan that all parties agree is the best way forward,” Davis said. “The legislature’s excited. The city’s abuzz.”
Nevertheless, Frank Stronach, who described himself as a “major” shareholder in the company, said he will continue to press to remove Belinda from the firm. He said he wants a board to pick a non-Stronach family member to serve as president. He also wants to convert the horse-racing industry to a nonprofit model, complete with a “Horse Racing Bill of Rights” that would help protect horses, jockeys and workers.
“Can we improve horse racing and eliminate the poverty of our neighbors? I believe we can do both,” Frank Stronach said.