Cooke Stadium: Proceed with Caution

September 05, 1995

Jack Kent Cooke, the fabulously wealthy owner of the Washington Redskins, couldn't find a hospitable home in Anne Arundel County to build a 70,000-seat stadium. So he moved his act to Prince George's County, where he's targeted a farm inside the beltway for his stadium. Our message to P.G. officials: Proceed with caution.

Mr. Cooke is used to getting his way. He tried to massage Anne Arundel officials and neighborhoods near the Laurel site. He soft-peddled the cost and impact of his huge edifice in a suburban community. But local leaders weren't impressed. The county refused to bend zoning rules. Neighborhood groups threatened delaying legal action. The football owner took his football and went home.

Next target: the Wilson Farm in Landover. But there are caveats. Mr. Cooke will magnanimously move his team if the state and county pay for major road improvements and water and sewer lines. Price tag: unknown.

The 82-year-old owner also doesn't want to be bothered with the usual hearings and impact studies. His lobbyists (including one with a blatant conflict of interest) are working overtime to get the County Council to bypass a long site-review process today.

Meanwhile, Mr. Cooke has won over House Speaker Casper Taylor (by shifting the Redskins' pre-season training camp to his district) and Senate President Mike Miller (a frequent Cooke skybox guest). Gov. Parris Glendening wants a Cooke stadium in his home county, too. Yet the state may never recoup its considerable investment in road improvements and it will lose precious money from an already strapped transportation fund that could be put to better use elsewhere in Maryland.

P.G. community groups are unhappy. They are ready to fight. Politicians who ignore angry neighborhood associations do so at their own peril.

Now Mr. Cooke is prodding P.G. County Executive Wayne Curry to sell the Wilson Farm to him rather than offering the Redskins a lease. That way Mr. Cooke can control what happens on the land -- not the county. More demands may follow.

State and local officials will have to decide how much 10 games a year at a suburban stadium are worth in public money. It may be this is one economic development plan that doesn't make sense.

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