Arundel officials hear about stadium plans

December 11, 1993|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer Staff writers John W. Frece, Marina Sarris, Ken Murray, Sandy Banisky, Ivan Penn and John Rivera contributed to this article.

Jack Kent Cooke is forging ahead with plans to move the Washington Redskins to Laurel, spending $2.1 million in cash to buy property next to the stadium site and sending representatives to meet with Anne Arundel County officials even as a stubborn Gov. William Donald Schaefer renewed his vow to work for a football team in Baltimore.

Mr. Cooke's representatives met for an hour yesterday with two County Council members and three key aides to County Executive Robert R. Neall to explain plans to build a 78,000-seat stadium next to Laurel Race Course.

The Redskins owner also called the governor to set up a meeting, but Mr. Schaefer was in a budget meeting and did not take the call. The governor's spokeswoman said last night that she did not think Mr. Schaefer would return the call before today.

Walter E. Lynch, project manager for Mr. Cooke, confirmed that the 81-year-old Redskins owner will sign papers Monday to seal his purchase of a 25-acre tract bordering Route 198.

Mr. Lynch said Mr. Cooke had been negotiating since Dec. 1 with the Resolution Trust Corp., which the federal government created to dispose of assets of failed savings and loan institutions. He paid cash for the property Thursday, Mr. Lynch said, because "it just makes things go faster. I guess if you have the cash, you might as well use it."

Mr. Cooke, in telephone interviews with reporters yesterday, said he plans to use the 25 acres to provide parking for 23,000 cars. Redskins officials said they are not planning to pursue other land acquisitions in the area.

Mr. Cooke said he began talking to Joseph A. De Francis, owner of Laurel Race Course, five weeks ago, before the NFL owners' meeting near Chicago on Nov. 30. The owners awarded Jacksonville, Fla., the final expansion team, which Baltimore and Mr. Schaefer coveted.

Mr. Cooke has been frustrated by red tape surrounding his efforts to build a $160 million stadium next to Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington. District of Columbia officials think Mr. Cooke is using Laurel as a "ploy" to get a better deal in the nation's capital.

But even when Mr. Cooke flirted with moving his team to Northern Virginia last year, he did not buy land, as he has done in Laurel.

Mr. Lynch said a series of meetings, public and private, will be held in the Laurel area during the next several weeks to provide information and show Mr. Cooke is serious about moving to Anne Arundel.

Mr. Cooke said yesterday that he envisions a complex in Laurel similar to that in the Meadowlands in New Jersey. It could include a basketball and hockey arena.

"What a beautiful setup," he said of the Meadowlands. "Ours will be better because ours will be newer."

The Washington Bullets basketball team and Washington Capitals hockey team play at the USAir Arena in Landover. The two teams and the arena are owned by Abe Pollin. Yesterday's Washington Post reported that Mr. Pollin had met with Mr. Cooke about the possibility of a new arena in Laurel.

Jerry Sachs, vice chairman of the Bullets, said yesterday that he wasn't aware of any meetings about a new arena but that the renovation of the USAir Arena, scheduled to begin in spring, have been put on hold.

Mr. Cooke and his lawyer, Stuart Haney, disputed claims by Washington officials that the Redskins and the city have a binding agreement to build a stadium in the district.

The owner also said that he has not thought about setting aside a certain number of tickets for residents of the Baltimore area. RFK, which seats 53,000, is sold out for every game, and 49,000 people are on the waiting list for season tickets.

Mr. Schaefer reaffirmed his support for Baltimore yesterday and said Laurel does not need a stadium.

The governor said he will meet with Mr. Cooke only if talks between the Redskins owner and Washington Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly fail.

"If Sharon Pratt Kelly says there's no opportunity, then as far as I'm concerned, I would then try to persuade Mr. Cooke, if we meet, to come to Baltimore," he said.

Mr. Schaefer has complained that Mr. Cooke thwarted Baltimore's efforts to get a team by mentioning his Laurel proposal during the ownership meetings in Chicago.

"This man [Mr. Cooke] just walks in and says, 'I'm going to put a stadium here,' " the governor said yesterday. "No bother to say a word to me or anyone else."

Washington officials said they had not met recently with Mr. Cooke.

"I talked to his office, and essentially his response is, 'We're pursuing Laurel and thank you, but we don't want to meet at this point,' " said George W. Brown, assistant city administrator for economic development.

"We're continuing to work," Mr. Brown said. "We think we can conclude all agreements we need to make in 30 days" on a new Washington stadium.

Mr. Cooke reaffirmed his commitment to Laurel, telling a reporter who asked whether he was serious, "There is no question whatever on that."

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