Redskins want to move to Laurel

December 08, 1993|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer Staff writers Marina Sarris, Michael Fletcher, Ross Peddicord, Alan Goldstein and James M. Coram contributed to this article.

In one of the stranger twists in Maryland's nine-year effort to rejoin the NFL, the owner of the Washington Redskins said yesterday that he intends to move the franchise to Laurel, but Gov. William Donald Schaefer said he doesn't want the team.

"Since the majority of Redskins fans who attend RFK Stadium are Marylanders, I have opted to build the stadium in Laurel," said Mr. Cooke, marking the third time in a year he definitively has announced a site for a new stadium.

The other deals collapsed before ground was broken, something critics were quick to note and Mr. Cooke declined to comment on yesterday. But, he said, "I fully expect" the team to be playing in a Laurel stadium in 1996.

He said he spoke yesterday with Washington Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly and Virginia Gov.-elect George Allen, both of whom have sought the team, and told them he was taking it to Laurel, a town bracketed by Interstate 95 and I-295 almost exactly between Washington and Baltimore. The site is about 14 miles from Baltimore.

Mr. Cooke would privately finance the $160 million, 78,600-seat stadium, contingent upon publicly financed roads, utilities and other infrastructure improvements. One source said it could be expanded to house a basketball and hockey arena in a multisport complex.

A sale of the land under consideration, at Laurel Race Course, has not been concluded and no price established, according to track operator Joe De Francis. He said "serious" talks are under way, however.

Mr. Cooke also is considering changing the team's name to the Maryland Redskins or Baltimore-Washington Redskins and would reserve a certain number of luxury seats for Maryland fans, according to one source who has spoken with Mr. Cooke about the matter. But season tickets would have to be sold first to fans on the team's 48,600-person waiting list.

But Mr. Schaefer, the state's most passionate pursuer of an NFL franchise, vowed to oppose the plan, preferring instead to continue trying to bring a team to Camden Yards, where the legislature has approved funding for a $165 million football-only stadium.

"I want to make it clear that I am opposed and will remain opposed to the Redskins moving to Laurel, and the state will not assist or cooperate in such a move as long as I'm governor," Mr. Schaefer said.

The state will not devote a cent toward the project, he said, and hinted he would make it hard for Mr. Cooke to get state environmental permits to build a stadium in Laurel.

"I want to know about an [environmental] impact statement. This may have a terrible effect on that area environmentally," Mr. Schaefer said during a news conference.

Although Baltimore failed to land an expansion franchise, the city's NFL boosters say they are talking with a number of teams exploring a move here. They worry that a Redskins move to Maryland would scare away any prospect.

Mr. Cooke's announcement -- which came a year to the day from a similar pledge that the team would stay in Washington -- was greeted by skepticism and immediately became an issue in Maryland's 1994 gubernatorial campaign, with candidates lining up on either side.

Since first announcing plans to build a stadium in 1987, Mr. Cooke has considered sites throughout the region and had agreements to put the project in Washington and Alexandria, Va., only to have those deals falter. At one time, he even suggested taking the team to Memorial Stadium in Baltimore.

"This is the third time he has said his negotiations with the city [Washington] are over," said Parris N. Glendening, Prince George's County executive and an unannounced Democratic candidate for governor.

Mr. Glendening, whose county abuts the Anne Arundel County site where the stadium would be built, said he is not convinced the announcement isn't an attempt to extract further concessions from Washington.

"We should recognize without any hesitation that, if an NFL team goes into that area, neither Washington nor Baltimore will ever have a chance of getting their own team. I think our goal should be each city gets its own team," Mr. Glendening said.

Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, a Baltimore County Republican candidate for governor, said she favors the idea and wrote to Mr. Cooke to encourage the move after Charlotte, N.C., won the first of two NFL expansion franchises Oct. 26. Last week, the league awarded the second team to Jacksonville, Fla.

"If Baltimore is not going to get a team, then I think we should not cut off our nose to spite our face," Ms. Bentley said. She has met several times with Mr. Cooke, she said. The combination of private financing and proximity to Baltimore should make it a sound investment for Maryland taxpayers.

"I look at it as a win-win situation. You're saving taxpayers money, you're bringing people together," Ms. Bentley said.

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