The Redskins Belong in Washington

December 10, 1993

Jack Kent Cooke's flirtation with a site in Laurel for a 78,000-seat stadium to house his Washington Redskins raises the inevitable question: Why doesn't Washington's team stay in Washington?

The ball club is, after all, one of the originals in the National Football League. It has a long and treasured history. The football club is a part of the Washington scene, a focal point of interest for area residents throughout the fall and winter months. To suddenly uproot the team for greener suburban pastures hurts efforts to revitalize the District of Columbia and deprives that city of a crown jewel.

Mr. Cooke, though, isn't concerned with developing a sense of community and vitality in D.C. He's after a bigger pay day, and at the moment Laurel is his latest target. Earlier, he thought he had sealed a deal with Virginia to build the Jack Kent Cooke Stadium at Potomac Yards, but he broke off talks when local officeholders and residents voiced strong opposition. Now he's zeroed in on Laurel -- or possibly another Virginia tract in Loudon County where the welcome mat is out.

Still, the logical location remains in Washington itself, next to the outmoded Robert F. Kennedy Stadium that serves as the Redskins' home field. District officials had offered to relieve Mr. Cooke of paying property taxes, sales taxes, police costs, land rent and turn over to him virtually all the parking receipts. It sounds like a wonderful deal.

But negotiations were stalled largely by the federal bureaucracy, which has a big say in this project, and a dispute over who should pay for lead-abatement costs at the site. Rather than wait out the delay, the 81-year-old Mr. Cooke started negotiating to buy 55 acres in Laurel.

Football teams belong in urban settings. That's where the greatest economic benefits and spinoffs occur. That's where the best public transportation is available. That's the most central location for most area sports fans. The D.C. site has great access to a subway line and major roadways. It is where the Redskins belong.

Just as Washington deserves its own major-league baseball team, it also deserves its own football club. The same is true of Baltimore. These are two large and affluent metropolitan markets fully capable of supporting their own teams in these sports. And as consultant studies pointed out consistently in the 1980s, a suburban location between Baltimore and Washington for a baseball/football sports complex doesn't make as much economic sense as a downtown site. The place for a football team like the Redskins is in a city. Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly ought to re-double her efforts to remove the remaining obstacles for Mr. Cooke so he can keep the Redskins where they belong.

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