Schaefer asks more time to pursue NFL

February 11, 1994|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Jon Morgan contributed to this article.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, declaring that he himself is now doing the negotiating to bring professional football back to Baltimore, formally asked the legislature yesterday to give him the rest of this year to complete the job.

Mr. Schaefer's announcement at a news conference came as the outlines of a new sports plan for the state began to emerge in Annapolis. That plan would involve a Redskins stadium in Laurel, a possible National Football League team in Baltimore and state support for a new arena for professional hockey and basketball in Prince George's County.

Mr. Schaefer faces a Monday deadline to demonstrate to lawmakers the level of interest that NFL teams have in moving to the city. The governor said there is "activity on three fronts" -- presumably with the Los Angeles Rams and Raiders and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- and said he hopes the General Assembly will not touch money earmarked for a new football stadium at Camden Yards.

"I don't want to see them [legislators] take action this year. Period. There's no reason to do it this year," Mr. Schaefer said after discussing the issue in closed-door meetings with the General Assembly's two presiding officers.

But with election year pressures mounting to abandon taxpayer-supported stadium financing in Baltimore, and perhaps to use the money for school construction or other purposes, it was impossible to tell whether lawmakers in the House and Senate would heed the governor's advice.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., an Allegany County Democrat, has been sympathetic, urging a go-slow approach and saying that if there is reason to grant the governor an extension, one should be granted.

That view is not shared by all 141 members of the House. Fifty of them have co-sponsored legislation to spend the stadium money on school construction, and others say they believe that the money should be used for prisons, or perhaps not at all.

In the Senate, President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said that he would have to talk with other senators before deciding how to respond.

"I honestly and truly don't know at this time," said the Prince George's County Democrat.

In explaining that he has assumed personal responsibility for the

negotiations with other teams, Governor Schaefer said, "I am actively talking. I, me. Before, I never did that. I went through the [Maryland] Stadium Authority." As a result of the change, he added, "We're somewhat closer than we were before."

Over the last several days, Mr. Schaefer, his top aides and various lawmakers have been trying to put together a deal that would satisfy the various professional sports franchises involved, while simultaneously appeasing different regions of the state. Elements of the emerging deal appeared to include:

* Mr. Schaefer will embrace Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke's plan to build his own $160 million stadium in Laurel, but only if Mr. Cooke agrees not to oppose the governor's continued efforts to bring an NFL team to Baltimore.

The governor would assure Mr. Cooke that any prospective NFL team would not interfere with the Redskins' move to Laurel.

* In exchange for his support of the Redskins, legislative leaders would back off attempts to de-authorize bonds or spend cash accumulated for a new football stadium at Camden Yards, giving the governor the time he wants for negotiations.

* Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke can move forward with his plans to sign a Canadian Football League team to play in vacant Memorial Stadium, a move Mr. Schaefer said would not be a threat to any NFL plans in the state.

* Meanwhile, the state and Prince George's County would help Abe Pollin, owner of the Bullets basketball team and the Capitals hockey team, to replace the aging USAir Arena in Largo. Mr. Pollin visited Mr. Schaefer in his State House office yesterday. Afterward, the governor said the owner wants to stay in Maryland and, if possible, in Prince George's County. The governor said that is his goal as well, and held out the hope that both the state and the county could give the team financial help in building a new arena there.

But when it came to the question of supporting the Redskins or helping finance road or other infrastructure improvements needed near the proposed Laurel stadium site, Mr. Schaefer turned coy.

"No comment," he said.

Others familiar with the negotiations say the governor wants to meet face-to-face with Mr. Cooke to nail down an agreement before publicly supporting a Redskins franchise move that he once vowed to fight with every means in his power.

Though the governor said no meeting has been scheduled with Mr. Cooke, lawmakers said they expected the two to get together within the next few days.

Mr. Cooke declined to comment yesterday on Mr. Schaefer's remarks. In the past, he has said that the Baltimore-Washington market could not support two teams and that he might re-think his Laurel plans if Baltimore landed a franchise.

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