Win-win in Stadium Wars

March 11, 1994

The cease-fire in the football wars between Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke can rightly be seen as a win for both of these strong-willed men.

Mr. Cooke's Laurel stadium proposal will go forward; Mr. Schaefer's attempts to lasso a National Football League team for Baltimore will proceed unimpeded by a meddlesome legislature. But neither the governor nor the football mogul can claim complete victory: Imposing and forbidding obstacles remain in their paths.

In a sense, the accord reached by Mr. Schaefer and legislative leaders merely shifts Mr. Cooke's battle a few blocks from Annapolis' State House to the Anne Arundel County courthouse and government center.

He faces a tough fight to fend off foes of his stadium as he applies for a slew of zoning permits and tries to get approval from a gamut of environmental agencies. Opponents also vow to continue their legal challenges for years. That could delay construction in Laurel until 1997. Even then, Mr. Cooke may have to slug it out with the state's next governor and legislature over who should pay the $55 million in road-improvement expenses that all sides seemed to agree on Wednesday are essential.

Still, the Redskins owner finally is on his way. He now has the state's backing for his $160 million project. And he has reached an uneasy truce with the governor. His next round of battles won't be as high-profile and confrontational; they will deal with the nitty-gritty of stadium construction and Anne Arundel's permit and zoning process.

Mr. Schaefer gets what he wants out of this, too. His efforts -- through Orioles owner Peter Angelos -- to buy or entice an existing NFL club to Camden Yards can proceed without any immediate time pressure. Construction funds for the new Camden Yards football stadium remain intact. The governor's next big fight may well be with the NFL itself -- in the courts -- over the legality of moving a team against the league's wishes.

For Marylanders, the stadium accord is filled with good news. This state could wind up with two NFL teams, plus an ambitious Canadian Football League club (the CFL Colts) at Memorial Stadium -- all within easy reach of the 6.7 million people residing in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area. That would be a remarkable economic development coup.

The agreement also finally lets legislators turn their attention to the many pressing matters hanging fire in the General Assembly, such as welfare reform, gun control and this year's $13 billion budget. No longer will sports stadium discussions serve as a distraction for legislative leaders. It's time for them to return to basics in the final month of this year's session. As for Mr. Cooke and Mr. Schaefer, they are already pursuing their field of dreams far from the legislative hallways.

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