Opponents of stadiums draw a line in the dirt Deals for pro football stir bitter feelings across Maryland

January 10, 1996|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Jay Apperson, Michael James, Greg Tasker and Dail Willis contributed to this article.

In the past 15 years, Julie Coleman has never missed a Washington Redskins game. But when it comes to spending $73 million to help build her team a stadium in Maryland, she is no fan.

"I can't send my kids to the Prince George's County schools, and they are spending all this money on football stadiums," said Mrs. Coleman, a 38-year-old mother of four. "We're putting all our emphases on the wrong things."

As Gov. Parris N. Glendening vows to spend $273 million in state money on the Redskins stadium in Prince George's County and another for the Cleveland Browns in Baltimore, many Maryland taxpayers appear to be siding with Mrs. Coleman.

In recent interviews across the state with more than 60 Marylanders, a majority said they strongly opposed public funding for one or both stadiums. Many said the money would be better spent on other services, including education, shelter for the homeless and police protection.

Those interviewed ranged in age from 20 to 79. They live all over Maryland -- from Cumberland, a conservative mountain city, to Takoma Park, a liberal Washington suburb, to Belair-Edison, a working-class Baltimore community.

Although the survey was not scientific, the generally negative response mirrors many letters received by the governor and legislators in recent weeks, and the impressions of Maryland pollsters.

"Our general sense is that, across the state, you have a huge skepticism about spending public money this way," said Steven Raabe, vice president of Potomac Survey Research in Bethesda.

Funding for the stadiums is expected to be a prominent topic in the annual legislative session that begins in Annapolis today.

Many state issues are difficult for citizens to grasp, but spending millions of dollars to help multimillionaire football team owners resounds in an unusually personal way.

"I think it's relatively obscene," said David Marcuse, 47, who owns a Montgomery County bookstore, Chuck and Dave's. "We didn't get any money from the government to open a bookstore in Takoma Park."

The stadium funding proposal also angers Leland Smith, a 38-year-old clockmaker on the Eastern Shore who must pay a fee for his children to play after-school sports because of budget cuts in Wicomico County.

"I had to pay $30 for my son to play soccer and will have to pay $30 for him to play baseball and $30 for indoor track. And they're taking tax dollars for a rich guy from Cleveland and a rich guy from D.C.?" said Mr. Smith, referring to Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell and Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke.

During these tight fiscal times in Annapolis, the stadium projects are expected to serve as a lightning rod for constituents who think their causes are not adequately funded. Political leaders predict that the legislature ultimately will support the stadiums, but opponents vow a fight.

Mr. Glendening negotiated the deals last fall with Mr. Modell and Mr. Cooke to bring both teams to the state. The governor acknowledges that he has been slow to explain the details to Marylanders, but he plans a public information effort aimed at winning over opponents.

At a news conference last week, he attributed some of the opposition to misinformation. Although the Browns stadium will cost a total of $200 million in state funds, much of it is to be borrowed. The state plans to pay off the debt over a number of years with proceeds from lottery games.

Mr. Cooke is building the Redskins stadium with his own money, but the governor has promised $73 million for roads and other infrastructure, of which $50 million will come from transportation funds that had been earmarked for use in Prince George's County, state officials said.

The governor has not said where the remaining $23 million for the stadium will come from, but he predicted that the stadium would generate more than that amount in taxes in two years.

"The only thing I'm interested in is making sure the stadiums get built," Mr. Glendening said.

Many Marylanders interviewed opposed public funding, but others supported the governor. Some football fans praised the projects as a good investment in the sport.

"You pay taxes on everything. Why not get something out of it," said Colleen Durbin, 67, a retired cake decorator from Cumberland.

Others said they thought the stadiums would improve the economy. Tom Brindisi, 47, owner of an executive search business in Lutherville, said the Browns would help his business.

"It would definitely make the area more attractive to a number of candidates I'm working with," Mr. Brindisi said.

But opponents were skeptical of the benefits. For example, state officials say thousands of Browns fans would stay in local hotels, a notion that Mr. Marcuse, the bookstore owner, finds laughable.

"I've gone to a Redskins game; nobody stays overnight in Washington," he said.

Some people said they favored spending money on one stadium but not on the other. In Baltimore and in Prince George's County, the stadium that people backed seemed to depend on where they lived.

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