NFL stadium offer won't last forever, governor warns

September 09, 1995|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Jon Morgan contributed to this article.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening has formally warned National Football League officials that if they do not promise by December to move a team to Baltimore, Maryland's offer to build a publicly financed stadium in Camden Yards will probably disappear.

In a Sept. 1 letter to NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Mr. Glendening and Maryland Stadium Authority chairman John A. Moag Jr. put in writing what they have been telling NFL officials orally for months.

The letter refers to previous discussions the state has had with the NFL about "the impending deauthorization of funds" for the stadium. "Only the movement of an existing franchise or the creation of an expansion team in Baltimore can prevent a reallocation of this funding," it says.

In a new request, the letter also asks that "the NFL give formal consideration to a legally binding resolution which would guarantee that either an existing team or an expansion franchise will be located in Baltimore."

While the letter does not give the NFL a specific deadline for passing such a resolution, both Mr. Moag and Dianna Rosborough, Mr. Glendening's spokeswoman, said the administration needs it by the time the governor makes his final budget decisions in December.

"What I have told NFL owners," Mr. Moag said yesterday, "is that our money is running out, it is not going to be there . . . You need to be aware that the opportunity in Baltimore -- which is currently the only turnkey opportunity for any NFL team in the country -- is not going to be available a lot longer."

Joe Browne, the NFL's vice president for communications, said, "We received a letter earlier this week. We're in the process of replying to it." But Mr. Browne declined to say what the league's response would be.

Neither Mr. Moag nor Mr. Glendening would provide a copy of the governor's letter, which was later obtained by The Sun from other sources.

The last-ditch effort to convince the NFL to grant Baltimore a team to replace the long-departed Colts reflects the changed political atmosphere in Annapolis.

Former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, the stadium's biggest booster, is no longer in office. The regional rival Redskins are closing in on a deal to build a new stadium in Prince George's County. And the growing Republican minority in the state Assembly has been pestering the Democratic majority for years to spend taxpayers' money on other needs.

Also, money is tight. With big cuts in federal aid in the offing and Maryland facing a possible loss of revenue from a proposed state income tax cut, the governor and legislators from both parties are now eyeing the money set aside for the football stadium.

Mr. Glendening and some lawmakers also say they are tired of being toyed with by NFL owners, who seem to have used Maryland's generous offer to build a $200 million stadium in Baltimore -- and give the team owner virtually all the stadium-generated revenue -- as leverage to extract sweeter pot of stadium funds will automatically be shifted to school construction.

By saying he needs an answer by December, Mr. Glendening seems to be signaling his intention to reappropriate stadium funds for his own budgetary purposes before legislators have a chance to divert the money to the programs they favor.

The letter is consistent with Mr. Glendening's policy on the NFL pursuit: That he does not want Baltimore to be used for leverage by teams looking to scare their home towns into building new stadiums and that the city will not wait forever for a team.

Mr. Moag's predecessor at the top of the Maryland Stadium Authority, Hebert J. Belgrad, counseled patience with the pursuit, saying the economic advantages of the deal would eventually lure a team.

Besides, Mr. Belgrad argued, there was little advantage to deauthorizing the bonds. They cannot be issued until a team agrees to move here, and, as revenue bonds, they could not be used for schools, prisons or other state projects that typically are built with general obligation bonds.

Mr. Glendening met with Mr. Tagliabue in July and said then that he told the commissioner that Baltimore would not "be brides in waiting forever."

He said Mr. Tagliabue neither encouraged Maryland to keep its funding in place nor discouraged it, and that he was blunt in discussing the strengths of Baltimore's football market and its geographic shortcomings relative to faster-growing regions of the country.

The governor said at the time that the commissioner was not hopeful there would be another expansion soon but that a number of teams were likely to relocate. The league, which added two teams this year, is not formally considering another expansion and is philosophically opposed to most relocations.

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