NFL team plans to leave D.C. for new Va. stadium

July 10, 1992|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

Even though political and environmental hurdles still must be cleared, Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke and Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder announced yesterday that a new stadium will be built for the Redskins at the Potomac Yard in Alexandria, Va.

Governor Wilder said he plans to call a special session of the Virginia legislature to get approval of the state's $130 million share of the $280 million project. A ground pollution problem at the old railroad switching site also must be solved before the 78,600-seat stadium -- to be called Jack Kent Cooke Stadium at Potomac Yard -- can be built.

But Mr. Cooke brushed off those concerns when he made a seven-minute announcement in a tent at the site. The stadium is scheduled to be ready for play in fall 1994.

The first question asked during the 40-minute news conference was if the new stadium were a done deal. Mr. Cooke turned around and threw up his arms as Mr. Wilder laughed.

Mr. Cooke then returned to the podium and said: "What have I been saying the last four minutes? I could have sworn that I said that a stadium is going to be built at Potomac Yards. . . . I know that I said it because I wrote it before I came here."

When asked the date for ground breaking, Mr. Cooke was vague. He mentioned the problem of what he called the "environmental restoration of Potomac Yard."

"As soon as a few of these hurdles -- they're not obstacles; they're hurdles, and we're great leapers -- and as soon as we get over these hurdles, we will be digging the first spade of earth to begin the construction of Jack Kent Cooke Stadium," he said.

The stadium would be located near National Airport, east of Route 1. It would be two miles from the historic Oldtown area in Alexandria.

There were about a dozen demonstrators against the stadium outside the news conference. And the project faces much political opposition, led by the congressman from that area, Rep. James P. Moran Jr., a Democrat.

Mr. Moran, who plans to introduce federal legislation to block such sports franchise moves, called it "poor use of a very valuable property."

The plan also called for a 32-million Metro station to build at the site, and Mr. Moran said that there will be opposition to the government's building a Metro stop that might be used only 10 times a year.

Representative Moran said he's just as certain the new stadium won't be built as Mr. Cooke is sure it will be. "We'll find out who's right," the congressman said.

Mr. Cooke, though, said the development will change "this eyesore of a railroad yard . . . and make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."

Mr. Cooke and Mr. Wilder were the only speakers at the news conference, also attended by several team officials and NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

This would leave Washington without a major sports franchise in the district -- the Washington Bullets basketball team and Washington Capitals hockey team play at the Capital Centre in Landover, Md.

Before yesterday's announcement, Washington Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly, who had negotiated with Mr. Cooke to build a stadium near the team's current home at RFK Stadium, said she hadn't conceded that the Virginia stadium will become a reality. She also described Mr. Wilder as "operating like a thief in the night."

Mr. Wilder responded with a smile that he would tell the mayor that "all is fair in love and war, and I love her madly."

The stadium would be similar to Giants Stadium in New Jersey. It would seat nearly 23,000 more than RFK Stadium. That still won't accommodate the 45,506 people on a waiting list for season tickets, most of whom likely would want to buy at least two. The Redskins have sold out every non-strike home game since 1966.

The stadium would include:

* A total of 15,000 club seats and 331 executive suites seating 4,300.

* Two video screens and four scoreboards.

* Parking for 21,000 cars.

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