Redskins mull move to Md., TV reports

December 04, 1993|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

A report that Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke is considering moving his team to Laurel could further complicate Baltimore's attempts to land an NFL team.

Cooke, who has been spurned in Virginia and bogged down in Washington in his attempt to build a new stadium for his club, is looking at a site near Laurel Race Course, Washington television station WRC reported last night.

The station said Cooke, 81, has spoken to Joe De Francis, who is involved in an ownership dispute over the racetrack, about buying an interest in the track as part of the deal to build a 78,600-seat stadium.

Talks concerning a stadium in Laurel could complicate, but wouldn't end, Baltimore's effort to lure an existing NFL team to Camden Yards, Herbert Belgrad, the head of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said.

"Clearly, it's not going to help," Mr. Belgrad said. "It's going to place a cloud over our efforts. I don't think there's any other way to interpret it."

Mr. Belgrad said he was told at the NFL owners meeting in Chicago Tuesday that commissioner Paul Tagliabue informed the owners Cooke was looking at options in Maryland.

A Redskins source said that if the deal in Washington, D.C., collapsed, it was more likely that Cooke would attempt to build a stadium in northern Virginia near the team's training complex than in Maryland.

George Allen, the son of the late Redskins coach, was elected governor of Virginia last month and expressed interest during the campaign in luring the club to Virginia.

Mr. Belgrad said he didn't think Gov. William Donald Schaefer knew about any possible talks between Cooke and De Francis.

"We have no intentions of cutting off any discussions or altering our course even if this is more than speculation," Mr. Belgrad said. "The fact the Redskins have picked a site has proven so far not to mean anything in the long run."

He was referring the deal Mr. Cooke made with Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder to build a stadium in Alexandria, Va. That deal collapsed when it failed to win state support.

Mr. Cooke then signed a non-binding memorandum of agreement last February with District of Columbia officials to build a stadium near RFK Stadium. That project has run into snags, including environmental concerns, and has not received final approval.

D.C. officials said they had not heard that Mr. Cooke was considering leaving the city again.

Mr. Cooke's talks with Washington officials have been rancorous at times, and his relationship with Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly has been strained. She called him a "billionaire bully" when he made the failed deal to go to Virginia. Mr. Cooke recently declined to attend a hearing in Congress on the deal.

Mr. Cooke declined to comment on the television report, saying he preferred to build a stadium in Washington. Mr. De Francis could not be reached for comment.

It could be difficult to build a stadium without state approval because of infrastructure -- roads, sewers, other services -- that might be needed to support a stadium.

L The league could try to block a move of a team to Baltimore.

Mr. Belgrad said the stadium authority would not be involved in any attempt to put a stadium in Laurel because it has legal approval to build a football stadium only at Camden Yards.

The stadium authority didn't sell any club seats and luxury boxes in Prince George's County so it wouldn't affect support for a team in Baltimore, Belgrad said.

The Redskins have a season ticket waiting list of about 40,000 fans, so a stadium in Laurel would not need to draw new fans to be successful.

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