Residents vow to fight proposed NFL stadium next to racetrack

December 07, 1993|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer Staff writer Ross Peddicord contributed to this article.

Reports that they might be getting a new neighbor who plans to invite 78,600 of his closest friends over for football eight Sundays a year have angered residents of the western edge of Anne Arundel County.

Ray Smallwood, the president of the Maryland City Civic Association, said yesterday that his group would go to court to keep Jack Kent Cooke from building a new stadium for the Washington Redskins on 55 acres next to the Laurel Race Course.

"Mr. Cooke is not well liked in the communities that surround him, and we will fight him all the way to the courts," Mr. Smallwood said.

Stories surfaced Friday that Mr. Cooke, owner of the Redskins, was negotiating with Joe De Francis, who operates the Laurel and Pimlico tracks, to buy a parcel of land adjacent to the Laurel Race Course and build a $150 million stadium for his team.

Yesterday, Mr. Smallwood fretted about traffic congestion and said local residents would be shut out of an already sold-out stadium.

"It absolutely is not for the local people," he said. "It might bring jobs for the area, but I think it will create more havoc. . . . I think [Mr. Cooke] is blowing smoke. But if he's not, he better come packing a lunch, because we will be ready."

Some business owners were pleased, but local officials were skeptical, saying the proposal could be a ploy by Mr. Cooke to pressure District of Columbia officials for a better deal on a new stadium in Washington.

"I haven't taken this as a serious proposal yet," said state Del. Marsha G. Perry, D-Crofton, who represents the area. "We wouldn't be the first ones Mr. Cooke has used."

Mr. Cooke had a deal with Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder to build a stadium in Alexandria, Va., last year, but it collapsed when it failed to win state support.

In February, Mr. Cooke signed a nonbinding memorandum of agreement with D.C. officials to build a stadium near RFK Stadium. But that project has run into snags and has not been approved.

The Laurel proposal took County Executive Robert R. Neall by surprise. He said no one had contacted him about it and that he wanted to be sure the proposal was serious before giving it consideration.

"We're not going to get all excited until we see some facts," said Louise Hayman, Mr. Neall's spokeswoman.

County Council Chairman David G. Boschert, who represents the area, said he supports the stadium idea but wants to meet with local residents before deciding.

"Any way that I can get a great tax base that will lower our taxes, I'm supporting it," Mr. Boschert said. "Economically speaking, it will be a boon to the county."

How much of a boon must be determined. Michael Lofton, vice president of the county's Economic Development Corp., said a large National Football League stadium could generate $100 million a year in revenue for the state. But he cautioned that he had not calculated the costs of the infrastructure the state would have to provide.

He said he did not know what it would take to get approval for a new stadium.

Sources familiar with the negotiations have indicated that the proposal will not work without the support of the state, and that doesn't seem likely to come any time soon.

Page W. Boinest, a spokeswoman for Gov. William Donald Schaefer, said Friday that the governor will not support a Redskins move to Laurel because "it could slam the door on any effort [for Baltimore] to get a team."

The proposed site is at Brock Bridge and Whiskey Bottom roads, near the Howard County line.

No final price has been determined for the land at Laurel, said a source with direct knowledge of the negotiations, but the money would go toward paying off some of the $40 million loan that the tracks have at First National Bank.

Despite Mr. Schaefer's position, Mr. Boschert suggested that Baltimore and Washington teams could share a new stadium between the two cities.

"I think something could be worked out," he said. "Why spend money when we don't have to?"

But optimism was tempered by officials who remembered Mr. Cooke's record in Washington.

The proposed D.C. site north of RFK Stadium, where the Redskins have played since 1961, has run into congressional delays.

Ms. Boinest said Friday that Mr. Cooke raised the Maryland stadium proposal at the NFL owners meeting in Chicago last month, which she said did not help Baltimore win votes for a franchise, considering that the Redskins stadium and a new Baltimore football stadium would be only 25 miles apart.

"It seems like a clever Jack Kent Cooke making certain Baltimore didn't get a competitive team," Ms. Perry said. "That's what it appears to be."

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