Cooke, Schaefer leave stadium questions open

February 13, 1994|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Sun Staff Writer

Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke met privately yesterday with top Maryland officials to discuss his plan for a new stadium in Laurel, but left apparently frustrated that Gov. William Donald Schaefer continues to pursue a rival team for Baltimore.

Publicly, none of the five men who convened for three hours over a lunch of crab cakes and salmon soup at the Governor's Mansion would talk about what had been discussed.

Privately, however, at least two said Mr. Cooke reiterated his position that the Baltimore-Washington market cannot support two National Football League teams. They said he also restated his belief that Mr. Schaefer had agreed that if another NFL team had not signed a letter of intent by tomorrow to play in Baltimore, the governor would abandon his effort to bring a team there.

Mr. Cooke apparently is fearful of having to compete against a team just 15 miles away with a taxpayer-subsidized stadium.

He also is worried that a competitor might persuade Mr. Schaefer to slow or even thwart Redskins' plans to build in Laurel.

As he left the State House, Mr. Cooke could be overheard telling the state's two top legislative leaders they have a "moral responsibility," and at one point he said loudly, "What are we going to do about it?"

Mr. Schaefer, who is personally negotiating with officials from three NFL teams or with groups interested in buying them, said last week he wants the rest of this year -- the final year of his term -- to try to close a deal. The teams in question are the Los Angeles Rams and Raiders and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

'Very spirited'

Mr. Cooke apparently told the state officials that he believes the governor's hopes for another team in Baltimore are "unrealistic."

At a State House news conference after the meeting, Mr. Cooke and Mr. Schaefer said little, leaving the talking to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George's County Democrat, House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., an Allegany County Democrat, and Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall, a Republican.

Senator Miller described the meeting as "very cordial, but very spirited." He said the four Maryland officials were in agreement that "Mr. Jack Kent Cooke is a wonderful entrepreneur, and we'd love to have him here in the state of Maryland."

"We're going to continue to proceed as best we possibly can to help him obtain his goals of bringing the Redskins to Laurel," Mr. Miller said.

Mr. Taylor said much the same thing, adding only that he was enthusiastic about the possibility that if the Redskins move to Laurel, they might switch their summer training camp from Carlisle, Pa., to Frostburg State University in Mr. Taylor's Western Maryland district.

Talks 'confidential'

Mr. Neall said he was just happy to be included in the group because the proposed Laurel stadium would be on a tract of land near Laurel Race Course in a western corner of Anne Arundel County.

But when it came time for Mr. Cooke to comment, all he said was: "Thank you for coming here today."

He later declined to answer a question about what specifically was discussed, calling the talks "confidential." But he volunteered that he was so comfortable with the group that he RTC took off his tie.

Mr. Schaefer, dressed in weekend attire with a broad-striped polo shirt, also would not comment.

Late last year, the governor threatened to block a Redskins' move to Laurel, saying it would ruin his chances of bringing a team to Baltimore to replace the Colts. He later suggested he could support the Redskins' move, but only if Mr. Cooke pledged not to interfere with his attempts to place an NFL team in Baltimore's Camden Yards.

Mr. Cooke acknowledges that his age, 81, is a factor in his haste to build a stadium to replace Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in the District of Columbia. He negotiated for five years to build a stadium in Washington, but was frustrated by delays and decided instead to build in Alexandria, Va. When local opposition killed that plan, he turned his sights on Laurel.

Mr. Cooke's plans call for a $160 million, 78,600-seat stadium, which he would build with his own money and which he would like to have ready for the 1996 season. The state is conducting a study of how much infrastructure improvements for such a stadium would cost. A report is expected by March 1.

Report awaited

Mr. Schaefer, meanwhile, is trying to preserve authorization to build a taxpayer-financed stadium adjacent to Oriole Park. Many legislators this election year want to cancel that authorization and spend the money instead for schools, prisons or other purposes, or not spend it at all.

In mid-December, lawmakers gave Mr. Schaefer 60 days -- until tomorrow -- to tell them the level of interest of NFL teams in moving to Baltimore. Senator Miller said the governor will present the report to legislators Tuesday.

Senator Miller and others at yesterday's meeting said they expect to invite Mr. Cooke back for another meeting, possibly late next week.

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