Decision could be boost to Baltimore's NFL bid

October 13, 1994|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Sun Staff Writer

Supporters of Baltimore's effort to land an NFL team say the initial rejection of the Washington Redskins' proposed stadium in Laurel represents a significant and timely boost for the city's 10-year drive to return to the league.

Baltimore is a finalist for the Los Angeles Rams, a franchise that is considering moving, and has approached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers about relocating.

Rams officials have said that Baltimore has a strong proposal, but they are concerned about another team being so close.

"I think it's a welcome and positive development," said Peter Angelos, who is heading a local investment group trying to bring a team to Baltimore.

"It is a very significant setback for [Redskins owner Jack Kent] Cooke. The hearing officer has said what is proposed . . . is incompatible for that area."

Mr. Angelos, the Orioles' owner, said he does not believe a team in Laurel would diminish the ability of a Baltimore franchise to prosper, but he acknowledges it is of serious concern to teams thinking of moving here.

"It is better because it clears the air and eliminates the conten tion raised by the Redskins that the area cannot support two teams," Mr. Angelos said.

Rams spokeswoman Heidi Sinclair said: "It depends on what happens. Obviously, it's something everyone here is going to be tTC watching very closely. It makes that market more attractive."

Supporters of the Redskins' plan say the decision could cost the state any team at all if it prompts the Redskins to look elsewhere.

Mr. Cooke, who filed notice that he would appeal the Anne Arundel County hearing officer's rejection of his stadium application, said: "We intend vigorously to pursue our object of building the Redskins' new stadium in Anne Arundel County."

Washington officials, however, have said they would like to keep the Redskins. Mayoral candidate Marion Barry has invited Mr. Cooke to reconsider his Maryland move.

The NFL, which has voted to allow the Redskins to move to Laurel, declined to comment.

State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., who supports the Laurel project, said he still believes Baltimore's chances of getting a team are slim and that it would be unfortunate to lose the Redskins.

"I hope that Mr. Cooke goes forward because he would not receive the same shabby treatment from Virginia officials," said Mr. Miller, a Prince George's County Democrat.

John Pica, chairman of the city's delegation in the state Senate, disagreed, saying, "We will have an NFL team long before he is able to dig his first ditch.

"Cooke is stubborn enough to continue to fight Baltimore, and if that means moving to Laurel, he will not give up," said Mr. Pica, who is also an attorney in Mr. Angelos' firm.

Paul Much, a sports financial consultant with Houlihan Lokey Howard & Zukin in Chicago, said a Redskins move to Laurel would be a significant obstacle to getting a team in downtown Baltimore, 15 miles away.

"That would have killed the Rams in Baltimore. You would not have two teams 15 miles from each other," Mr. Much said.

Although the NFL constitution does not grant any franchise exclusive use of a territory, teams would be reluctant to compete so closely for skybox customers and corporate support, he said.

"It may really help the Rams in moving to Baltimore," Mr. Much ventured.

One source familiar with the Rams' deliberations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said, "Nobody's called the Mayflowers [moving vans] yet, but it doesn't hurt."

Even if Mr. Cooke were able to win an appeal, the delay comes at a good time for Baltimore by raising questions about the viability of the Laurel project, the source said.

"Any delay works to Baltimore's advantage," the source said.

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