Cease-fire declared in stadium struggle

December 15, 1993|By John W. Frece and Sandy Banisky | John W. Frece and Sandy Banisky,Staff Writers

The Schaefer administration and General Assembly leaders declared a cease-fire in Maryland's stadium wars yesterday, jointly agreeing to study the idea of a Washington Redskins move to Laurel while at the same time giving the governor one last crack at landing a National Football League team for Baltimore.

After a private, hour-and-15-minute meeting designed to halt the hostilities that had broken out over the competing stadium projects, the two sides agreed that Mr. Schaefer should meet with Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke as soon as possible to open a "serious dialogue" on the issue.

A spokeswoman for the governor said afterward that there is no timetable for the call to Mr. Cooke but that the governor now intends to make it.

Yesterday's meeting was pulled together by the governor's aides and legislative leaders who were worried, respectively, that Mr. Cooke's plans to move to Laurel could thwart any chance an NFL team would move to Baltimore and that Mr. Schaefer's opposition to the Laurel stadium could keep the Redskins from moving to Maryland.

To resolve the differences, the group agreed to go down two tracks simultaneously:

* Commission an independent study, perhaps by a private engineering consulting company, of road and other infrastructure costs associated with a stadium at Laurel, and also study the impact on the economy of building a stadium there.

Who will supervise the study, how much it will cost and who will pay for it were not decided. To keep it objective, some lawmakers suggested that Anne Arundel County officials could supervise the study, with the cost possibly shared by the state and Mr. Cooke.

* At the same time, give the Maryland Stadium Authority 60 days to report back to the General Assembly on the likelihood that an existing NFL team might be interested in moving to Baltimore.

The 60-day timing was significant for several reasons. It will give the governor one final chance to bring back a team to replace the Colts, or at least to feel he had done everything in his power to do so.

"I want to give the Stadium Authority -- which has worked diligently to bring a team to Baltimore and has been thwarted so many times -- a chance to come back and tell us if there's a bona fide chance of obtaining an NFL franchise," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. "And if there is a viable opportunity, a viable chance, within 60 days, then certainly we're going to ask them to continue on with their discussions."

Perhaps more important, the 60-day provision will give the General Assembly a yes-or-no answer at a critical budget decision time during the 90-day legislative session that opens Jan. 12. Without a clear sign that Baltimore has a good chance to get an NFL franchise, the legislature is likely to repeal the authorization to sell bonds to build a football stadium at Camden Yards.

The study also will give owners of NFL teams who might be considering a move to Baltimore time to finish the current season before focusing on the process of relocation.

"What we're really doing is taking 60 days to separate fact from fiction," said Delegate Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, who is expected to be elected speaker of the House next month.

Mark L. Wasserman, Mr. Schaefer's secretary of economic and employment development, said, "What has been presented here a framework within which the legislative and executive branches can work. This is a very high-stakes, high-pressure situation, and we've come together and I think we've got a game plan to deal with the situation."

He said Maryland Stadium Authority Chairman Herbert J. Belgrad had laid out for lawmakers the status of the state's efforts to move an other city's team to Baltimore.

"I think they have a stronger appreciation of where we are and how turbulent and changeable the situation is," Mr. Wasserman said.

After the meeting, several legislators said Mr. Belgrad indicated the state has had inquiries from three teams about relocating: the Los Angeles Rams, the New England Patriots and a third, unnamed franchise that several said they believe is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The interpretation of how strongly Mr. Belgrad characterized the city's chances of landing one of those teams, however, seemed to depend on whether the legislator was from the Baltimore area -- where they were seen as good -- or from the Washington suburbs -- where the prospects appeared to be gauged as slim to nonexistent.

Asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 the seriousness of teams discussing a move to Baltimore, Baltimore Del. Howard P. Rawlings said, "8 1/2 or 9."

Baltimore County Del. Thomas L. Bromwell also characterized the inquiries as solid. "From what I heard today, there have been some serious talks taking place," he said. "I think we are doing everything we can to remain in those talks. We've got to make every effort for Baltimore."

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