Stadium advocates call for harder sell Glendening is urged to make strong case for economic benefits

January 31, 1996|By Thomas W. Waldron and Frank Langfitt | Thomas W. Waldron and Frank Langfitt,SUN STAFF

Worried about persistent opposition to the state's two proposed football stadiums, some key legislators say the Glendening administration isn't doing enough to sell the projects to both the public and the General Assembly.

Stadium supporters say the governor is losing the public relations battle by failing to explain adequately the economic benefits the state will reap from the $273 million it is contributing to the deals.

"The executive branch needs to create a roadshow and go out on the road -- set up some local briefing sessions for the public," said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. "We have to get all the facts and get rid of all the fiction."

Mr. Taylor, a Democrat from Cumberland, was concerned enough yesterday to summon two members of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's Cabinet to an early-morning meeting to explain the stadium projects to some 60 Democratic members of the House of Delegates.

"I want my members to get totally educated," Mr. Taylor said. "Frankly, I think it did some good."

The administration has agreed to build a $200 million stadium for the Cleveland Browns at Camden Yards in Baltimore, as well as to contribute $73 million to a stadium to be built by Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke in Prince George's County.

Opponents have filed more than a dozen bills in the General Assembly to kill one or both projects.

With the governor, Mr. Taylor and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. supporting both stadiums, the prospects for legislative approval appear strong.

But to ensure passage, stadium supporters said Mr. Glendening must do more to win over a public that has been exposed to criticism of the stadiums in everything from local weekly newspapers to national magazines.

"I don't see rallies. I don't see people out there banging the drum," said Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, an Anne Arundel Democrat who says he is undecided. "Whoever is in charge is making a big mistake."

Fueling the legislative criticism yesterday were the results of a new poll showing that Maryland voters oppose the stadiums by margins of roughly 3 to 1.

In a poll taken by Mason-Dixon Political Media Research of Columbia for WMAR-Channel 2 and other media outlets, the Browns stadium was opposed by a margin of 62 percent to 26 percent. The Redskins project was opposed by a margin of 69 percent to 21 percent.

While the governor complained that the pollsters had asked leading questions, administration officials also conceded that they and other stadium supporters need to do more to promote '' the projects.

A written statement released by the governor's press office said that "supporters of the stadium in the General Assembly, in the business community and in [the] administration must work harder to educate the public about the benefits of the proposals."

In the weeks following the announcement of the Browns deal last fall, Mr. Glendening focused on the fact that he was bringing the National Football League back to Baltimore after an 11-year absence.

But lately, the governor has begun to emphasize the $17 million a year in tax revenue that the stadiums would eventually generate, more than enough to cover the debt service for financing the projects.

Lawmakers say he has to take that message to a larger audience.

"I think they ought to go on Maryland Public Television," Mr. Taylor said. "Just ask the questions about the stadiums and give the answers. Just tear the thing apart."

Opponents, meanwhile, have fashioned simple messages that seem to resonate with citizens. Referring to the need to spend more money on school construction instead of stadiums, a button circulating in Annapolis declares: "$$$ for brains, not for Browns."

The man at the center of the stadium issue, Browns owner Art Modell, had dinner last night in the governor's mansion with Mr. Glendening, although aides to the governor said it was a social visit rather than a strategy session.

At least one stadium supporter predicted it may be hard for the governor to change the minds of opponents.

"I don't know if it was too little too late," Del. Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel Democrat and chairman of the Economic Matters Committee, said of yesterday's briefing. "People tend to get locked into positions."

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