Schaefer set for meeting with Cooke

December 17, 1993|By John W. Frece and Sandy Banisky | John W. Frece and Sandy Banisky,Staff Writers

Gov. William Donald Schaefer has agreed to meet with Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke -- but only if Mr. Cooke agrees in advance to consider moving the Redskins to Baltimore or, as an alternative, pledges he will not block Baltimore's continuing attempts to get its own team.

In a bluntly worded, two-page letter hand carried to Mr. Cooke Wednesday, the governor stubbornly refused to budge from his goal of getting a team for Baltimore despite Mr. Cooke's plans to move the Redskins to Laurel.

Mr. Schaefer also said he would agree to meet with Mr. Cooke only "if all efforts to locate [the Redskins] in Washington, D.C. have been terminated." The letter was made public yesterday.

"It's very simple," Mr. Schaefer told reporters at an afternoon news conference. "Say, 'I'll locate in Baltimore,' or, as the other alternative -- and one he has said before -- say he won't oppose our efforts to get a franchise."

Mr. Cooke, who last week called the governor's office to request a meeting, could not be reached for comment.

A Redskins official, however, said the organization was not surprised by the tough tone of Mr. Schaefer's letter, calling it predictable posturing by an angry governor. The official expected Mr. Cooke to ignore the letter's sometimes harsh language and prepare to sit down for discussions with Mr. Schaefer.

Mr. Cooke has proposed spending $160 million of his own money to construct a 78,600-seat stadium for the Redskins adjacent to Laurel Race Course in Anne Arundel County.

Aides to the governor said he is expected to call Washington Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly today to set up a meeting for next week to find out personally the status of Mr. Cooke's broken-off negotiations with the District of Columbia.

Mr. Schaefer, asked specifically if he would support a Redskins move to Laurel if Mr. Cooke agreed not to block a Baltimore team, replied, "You're asking, 'If, if, if, if, if,'" but then added, "I think we would look very favorably on his magnanimous gesture if he would do it."

Room for two teams

Mr. Schaefer insisted there was sufficient fan interest in the Washington and Baltimore areas to support two teams in such close proximity, and said the NFL should not object, noting that the league has now awarded three franchises in Florida and that two teams share the same field in New York.

"Incidentally, we were doing all right," said Mr. Schaefer of

Baltimore's effort to get a team until Mr. Cooke's gaze suddenly turned to Maryland. "There was no assurance. But there are a couple teams that are going to move. They're going to move! Everybody knows they are going to move. We had a chance -- a chance -- of getting one. He's able to stop that."

The governor hinted that in addition to a football stadium, he is giving "very important consideration" to the possibility of building a sports arena as part of the Camden Yards sports complex, but refused to elaborate.

A shot at Tagliabue

In his letter to Mr. Cooke, the governor also took a shot at NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, blaming him for killing Baltimore's chances to win one of two NFL expansion franchises by telling owners before the vote of Mr. Cooke's interest in moving into Maryland.

"I cannot tell you of my disgust for the commissioner for withholding this information from us and using it in the private owners meetings to thwart our efforts," the governor said. "He has lost our respect."

Mr. Schaefer said he is so distrustful of Mr. Tagliabue that if Mr. Cooke were to write the commissioner saying he did not object to a Baltimore team, he would have his own staff call NFL owners to make sure the information was forwarded.

NFL officials declined to comment on Mr. Schaefer's letter. Last week in a conference call with reporters, Mr. Tagliabue denied that either geography or a possible Redskins move to Maryland played a major role in the decision to award expansion teams to Charlotte, N.C., and Jacksonville, Fla.

Behind the scenes yesterday, Schaefer administration officials,

legislators, Anne Arundel County officials and representatives of the Redskins discussed how to proceed with a study of road and other infrastructure improvements associated with a Laurel stadium.

Mr. Cooke has said he thinks those costs will be no more than $36 million, but Mr. Schaefer yesterday said it could be as high as $100 million. Maryland Stadium Authority Chairman Herbert J. Belgrad has used even higher estimates.

Although decisions are not final, it appeared the various parties were moving toward an agreement to let Anne Arundel County oversee the study, with technical assistance from the state and perhaps from the Redskins.

Hiring a consultant

Some of the discussion also apparently revolved around the possible hiring of the Baltimore engineering consulting firm of tTC Rummel Klepper and Kahl to assist in the study. The firm has conducted similar studies in the past.

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