Laurel asks: Stadium a boon or a bother?

December 09, 1993|By Peter Hermann and Ivan Penn | Peter Hermann and Ivan Penn,Staff Writers Staff writer John Rivera contributed to this story.

Greater Laurel has one question for Jack Kent Cooke: what's in it for us?

News that the owner of the Redskins is negotiating to build a $160 million stadium next to the Laurel Race Course has locals weighing the dream of a financial windfall against the traffic nightmare a 78,600-seat stadium would create.

Some, like Laurel Mayor Joseph Robison, promptly donned Redskins caps and embraced the proposal with enthusiasm, even though the city of 20,000 residents in Prince George's County would reap few tax benefits.

Others, like the manager of Russett Center, an upscale development in Anne Arundel County, believe a stadium would do nothing to help the area attract middle-class homeowners.

In Bacontown, the tiny community of trailers and ramshackle homes closest to the site, many residents are perfectly willing to sell their land and homes in Anne Arundel for parking lots or end zones or whatever an NFL stadium

needs. They're even willing to feed the owner lunch.

"Jack Kent Cooke can come over every Sunday and have some chicken," said John E. Carter, whose 70-year-old mother, Mildred, is famous for her recipe.

Not everyone is so hospitable. Karen Jones, 31, who grew up at the corner of Whiskey Bottom and Spring roads, the heart of Bacontown, stood by her fence yesterday and uttered the one word that has echoed through all of Laurel: traffic.

"Why should we put up with the traffic?" she asked. "What are we going to get out of this? Nothing. We don't get anything now with the race course, and we won't get anything with the stadium."

That's exactly what the outspoken president of the Maryland City Civic Association has been preaching since he heard rumors about the deal on Saturday.

"What do we get out of this?" Ray Smallwood asked. "They say we will get jobs. We got jobs. Is the county going to lower our taxes? Do you believe them? If they want to do something for us, get us street lights and fix our sidewalks.

"Unfortunately, this is the place to be. We're right in the middle of two metropolitan hubs. We were here first, when it was nothing. Now everyone wants a piece of the pie."

Maryland City was built three decades ago, when Maryland Route 198 was Route 602, a country lane with a general store called Markle's Corner, now an Amoco gas station. And the Starting Gate Lounge was an elegant family restaurant, not a rough-and-tumble bar.

Now, Route 198 is a hodgepodge of fast-food restaurants, motels, convenience stores, car dealerships and strip shopping malls.

Will stadium help sales?

Russett Center has completed about 500 of 3,000 homes on 613 acres. Its main entrance is about two miles from Brock Bridge Road, the site's eastern edge, but the community's townhouses border Bacontown.

"Is a stadium going to help me sell houses?" asked Marshall Zinn, the project manager for Russett. "No. Is it going to be a terrible negative? I don't think that's the case, either.

"Route 198, you can probably add some capacity to, but the bigger issue is going to be Interstate 95 and trying to come through Laurel and across Route 1. And the way the roads look in back of the race track, it's going to be a nightmare. Can we live without it? Sure."

Boost for business?

Business owners on the Howard County side of Laurel hope that a new stadium can make up for lost money from a race track not performing up to expectations.

"There aren't as many customers at the track," said Joe McKay, who has owned and operated Smokin' Joes Pit Beef and Bar-B-Que on U.S. 1 for a year and a half. "The horsemen don't have as much money.

"If the Redskins did move out here, it would be a big boost for Maryland racing," he said. "This would open a whole new dimension for Maryland. We actually think it will be the best thing for Laurel."

One lot next to the track garnered Howard County $26,500 in property taxes last year. Howard also collected about $105,000 in impact fees last year because of the track. Impact fees generated by the proposed complex could be used to build access roads to the site.

The average number of vehicles that use U.S. 1 between Route 32 and Whiskey Bottom Road, one of the major routes to the stadium, is 26,000 vehicles a day, according to the State Highway Administration.

"At this point, it's too preliminary," said John Contcannon, a state highway traffic engineer. "But when you've got 60,000-plus people using the roads, it's going to cause traffic problems."

Mayor Robison said the local roads can support more cars, even Route 198 near I-95, where the road narrows into a neighborhood street.

"We would be impacted, absolutely," the mayor said. "But it would impact mainly the church-goers. And by game time, most people already have gone to church."

Most of the tax revenue generated by the stadium would go to Anne Arundel County.

Taxes for Anne Arundel

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