Gov. William Donald Schaefer and General Assembly leaders struck a cleverly crafted stadium compromise yesterday, welcoming a Washington Redskins move to Laurel while keeping alive efforts to bring another National Football League team to Baltimore.
The deal represented both a victory and a setback for the principal antagonists in Maryland's long-running stadium war: 72-year-old Mr. Schaefer, still gunning for a team to replace the Colts before his last year as governor is over, and 81-year-old Mr. Cooke, who wants to see the Redskins play in a new stadium.
With assurances from House and
Senate leaders, Mr. Schaefer no longer needs to worry that the legislature will cancel financing for a football stadium in Baltimore's Camden Yards this legislative session. But by welcoming the Redskins to build their own stadium just 14 miles away -- something he vowed in December he would never do "as long as I am governor" -- Mr. Schaefer has invited to Maryland a rival team that could puncture his remaining hopes of luring another team to Baltimore.
"I didn't get what I wanted all the way, and Mr. Cooke didn't get what
he wanted all the way," the governor said.
The gamble for Mr. Cooke is that Mr. Schaefer might succeed, which would put two teams in a Baltimore-Washington market he insists can support only one. Yet he comes away with broad backing for his plan to spend $160 million of his own money to build a 78,600-seat stadium in Laurel, not only from Mr. Schaefer, but also from House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's.
"It's a good day today, no question of that whatsoever," said an ebullient Mr. Cooke. "I'm so appreciative of what Mike Miller and Cas have done.
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They have steadfastly and stoutheartedly stood beside, behind and in front of me as I took the slings and arrows."
He said the Redskins intend to apply to Anne Arundel County within two weeks for the zoning approval the stadium in Laurel would require, a process that County Executive Robert R. Neall predicted would take at least a year.
"At long last, I believe this first step will lead to the building of the new Redskins' stadium in Laurel, Md., and to the Redskins' training camp in Frostburg, Md.," Mr. Cooke said.
As a side benefit, yesterday's compromise postponed for at least a year any decision about whether taxpayers' money will be used to pay for roads or other improvements that would be needed around the proposed Redskins stadium.
A spokeswoman for a group of Laurel-area residents opposed to the stadium condemned the compromise as the work of "good-old-boy" politicians and threatened to drag out the zoning fight as long as possible.
"I think he [Mr. Schaefer] and Mike Miller and Casper Taylor are extremely out of touch with the people of Maryland," said Mary TTC Lehman, speaking for Citizens Against the
Stadium. "They make these decisions in a vacuum. It's all about ego and power and has little to do with the taxpayers of the state."
The compromise became politically possible only after the governor and the legislative leaders agreed to sign a statement embracing a consultant's report on highway needs around the Laurel stadium site.
"Based on our assessment of the RKK report, we believe there are no substantial impediments to the construction of an NFL stadium at the Laurel . . . site that cannot be overcome," the joint statement said.
Mr. Taylor and other key lawmakers played down the importance of the study's two more expensive options. Instead, they suggested, the option calling for $52 million in improvements would be sufficient for the next several years, even though the report indicated that would not prevent up to two hours of stop-and-go traffic before and after games.
State Highway Administrator Hal Kassoff also issued a letter essentially endorsing the $52 million alternative and saying the state could wait a decade before the more expensive improvements envisioned for the Laurel area -- such as adding a lane to Interstate 95 -- are needed.
The statement by the governor and the presiding officers also acknowledged the continuing efforts of
Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, who at Mr. Schaefer's request is trying to buy an existing NFL franchise for Baltimore. As a result, the legislative leaders said, "we will not support legislation amending the Stadium Authority authorization to construct an NFL stadium in Camden Yards."
Hearings on bills to do just that -- and to shift stadium funds to other uses, such as building schools -- were scheduled in both houses today, but without leadership support, they are unlikely to go anywhere.
Del. Christopher Van Hollen Jr., D-Montgomery, sponsor of one such measure that has 50 co-sponsors, said he would settle for legislation putting an end-of-the-year deadline on the authorization, after which the money would be diverted to school construction if no team had agreed to move to Baltimore.