Redskins' destiny mulled at fireside

January 04, 1994|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Staff Writer

The private meeting lasted one hour and 35 minutes, much longer than anyone expected, and when it was over both Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke and an aide to ZTC Gov. William Donald Schaefer declared it a success.

But then, neither side would say much about what the two men actually said regarding Mr. Cooke's plans to build a stadium for his Redskins in Laurel or Mr. Schaefer's quest to bring a National Football League franchise back to Baltimore.

Sources in both camps, however, interpreted the length of the meeting -- and the fact that a follow-up meeting next week is already being planned -- as signs that the governor may have softened his opposition to the Laurel stadium plan in hopes of getting a commitment that Mr. Cooke will not block Mr. Schaefer's attempts to land a team for Baltimore.

After the get-acquainted meeting, Mr. Cooke was effusive in his praise of Mr. Schaefer, saying the governor treated him "with the utmost courtesy" as they sat by the fire in the governor's State House office.

"We had a wonderful time," the Redskins owner said. "I enjoyed his company. He's a remarkable man. I think you're very lucky to have a governor who is a true doer. This man is a doer if I've ever met one in my life."

But when asked what they talked about, Mr. Cooke paraphrased Lewis Carroll: "Oh, cabbages and kings and all sorts of things."

Mr. Schaefer declined to talk to reporters about the meeting at all, instead dispatching his press secretary, Page W. Boinest, to respond to questions. She said it had been "a good meeting" but offered little else about what was said.

"The governor continues to focus on getting an NFL franchise in Baltimore and continues to feel very strongly about that," she said.

She said the governor had asked Mr. Cooke to consider moving the Redskins to Baltimore instead of Laurel, a point Mr. Cooke either did not hear or had already forgotten by the time he emerged from the meeting and was greeted by lights from a bank of 12 television cameras.

"Governor Schaefer didn't bring that up," the millionaire owner said when asked about moving his team to Baltimore.

Ms. Boinest, however, disputed that account. "The governor very definitely did raise Baltimore as the site for the Redskins," she said, but added that Mr. Cooke "continued talking about the Laurel site."

Before the meeting started, two aides to Mr. Cooke carried into the governor's office a huge wooden box hinged on one side; inside was a model of the proposed 78,600-seat, $160 million stadium that Mr. Cooke has proposed building with his own money. The Cooke aides also produced poster-sized maps of the site.

During the meeting itself, each man was joined by one aide: Mr. Cooke by his stadium project manager, Walter Lynch, and Mr. Schaefer by his scheduling and public relations director, Lainey LeBow-Sachs.

Sources who spoke with participants said Mr. Cooke made it clear that he was serious about the Laurel site and had been working on the plans for some time.

"When the stadium is built, it is going to be built by private funds. It's going to be built at my expense. Taxpayers will not have to pay a nickel toward the building of that stadium," he said afterward.

Mr. Cooke did not mention, however, the potential of millions of dollars in costs for roads and other infrastructure associated with the Laurel site, nor did he indicate whether that was discussed in the meeting.

Asked whether he might reconsider his plans and reopen negotiations to build his stadium in Washington, Mr. Cooke slowly replied: "I am not going to build the stadium in the District of Columbia. I am not going to build the stadium in the District of Columbia."

Then, louder, he added, "I am not going to build the stadium in the District of Columbia under any circumstances. I waited five years to get it built, and it is completely out of the question."

Asked about possibly abandoning his Laurel plans and building the stadium in Virginia's Loudoun County, however, he said, "I have no answer to those kinds of questions because I don't know. It isn't that I'm being difficult. I simply do not know because I have no idea what the future will hold."

At a separate news conference earlier in the day, Joe De Francis, co-owner of the 55-acre Laurel Race Course parcel that Mr. Cooke has been negotiating to buy as the site for his new stadium, said, "We expect to finalize the land sale this week."

Asked about that, Mr. Cooke would say only, "That's between Joe and me."

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