'Keep the Redskins in Washington,' Cooke urged

December 23, 1993|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS -- United in worry over the Washington Redskins, Washington Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly and Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer met yesterday to discuss the team's possible move to Laurel and emerged with a message for team owner Jack Kent Cooke: "Stay in Washington."

"It's where you made your money," Mr. Schaefer said. "It's where the fans are. My idea is to keep the Redskins in Washington."

Yesterday's 45-minute talk was the first between the mayor and governor since Mr. Cooke announced he has given up plans to build a stadium in the District of Columbia or Virginia and instead wants to spend $160 million to build a 78,600-seat stadium in suburban Laurel.

Mayor Kelly doesn't want to lose a team that sells out every game and has 48,000 people on a waiting list for season tickets. Mr. Schaefer doesn't want the Redskins in Laurel for fear the move would snuff out any chance for a National Football League franchise in Baltimore, 15 miles away.

The governor acknowledged yesterday that if Baltimore fails to attract a football team and Mr. Cooke gives up on Laurel, Maryland may be left without any NFL franchise. "I've thought about that," he said. "There's all sorts of minefields."

Mayor Kelly said she last spoke with Mr. Cooke a week ago. "He was in good cheer. He seemed to be enjoying himself considerably."

Mr. Schaefer said that Mr. Cooke is in "an enviable position. He can play Washington against Laurel, Laurel against Virginia." The governor said he plans to talk with Mr. Cooke in the first week of the new year. He said he'll remind the Redskins owner how hard Mayor Kelly has worked to accommodate the team.

What if Mr. Cooke tells the governor the Redskins are not going to stay in Washington? "I'm going to say, 'I listened to the mayor, and she seems to say you still are.' "

He also said that Ms. Kelly "has assured me that discussions are still going on" between her staff and the Redskins.

"That's what I needed" to hear, he said. Mr. Schaefer, who was mayor of Baltimore when the Colts left in 1984, has said that he would not try to lure a team from another city so long as negotiations continued there.

Mr. Cooke, she said, signed an agreement with the District of Columbia, an agreement she believes binds him to a deal in Washington.

"We do not take such agreements lightly," Mayor Kelly said. "He has a signed agreement. He affixed his name to the bottom line. We take that seriously."

Later yesterday, the Redskins released a statement saying that the agreement to which Mayor Kelly referred was a "memorandum of understanding" that either party could cancel if a lease was not concluded quickly. On Dec. 9, the Redskins formally ended negotiations with the district, the statement said.

After her meeting with Mr. Schaefer yesterday, Mayor Kelly repeated the phrase that's become the motto of the Maryland Stadium Authority since the Cooke crisis began three weeks ago: Baltimore and Washington are strong, distinct markets. Stadium Authority officials say that even if the Redskins should move to Laurel, Maryland can support both a team there and in Baltimore. At a press conference after the meeting, Ms. Kelly acknowledged that she's had talks with Abe Pollin, owner of the Washington Bullets basketball team, the Washington Capitals hockey team and the USAir Arena in Landover, where both teams play. Arena management officials say the 20-year-old Landover facility needs extensive renovations or must be replaced. Mr. Pollin reportedly has been interested in building a new arena in Laurel, should the Redskins move there.

But the future of the arena and the sports teams that play there was not discussed by Mr. Schaefer and Mayor Kelly yesterday. "If the mayor wants to talk to Abe Pollin, go right ahead," Mr. Schaefer said. Ms. Kelly said that if she has serious talks with Mr. Pollin, she'll discuss them with the governor. Mr. Cooke's interest in Laurel -- and Mr. Schaefer's staunch defense of Baltimore -- has some Washington-area lawmakers championing

Laurel as the state's best hope for an NFL team and many Baltimore-area representatives standing firm for their city.

Last week, Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., of Prince George's County, was among the people who met with Mr. Cooke to discuss the football issue.

Yesterday, Mr. Schaefer made an apparent reference to Mr. Miller's talks with the Redskins owner. "He's been able to get certain members of the legislature to visit him," the governor said of Mr. Cooke.

Mr. Miller later said no legislators are trying to divide Maryland. "My first goal is to get a franchise for Baltimore. But as that goal slips from us, we have to look at alternatives. And we have to look at the state as a whole."

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