He reached for two can he salvage one?

February 04, 1996|By Barry Rascovar

THE STADIUM DEAL in Annapolis is in deep trouble.

Gov. Parris Glendening fumbled the ball on this one. Now he's got to find a way to pick up the loose ball, reverse field, outmaneuver the opposition and streak for the end zone.

Basically, Mr. Glendening got greedy. Not only did he snatch the Browns from Cleveland for Baltimore, but then he decided to go all-out for his home county of Prince George's by cutting a very sweet deal with the Redskins to build a new stadium in Landover.

One stadium he might be able to justify. Two? Not in the present political environment.

The weak link in the governor's package is the Redskins football coliseum. To pay the state's share, Mr. Glendening is pulling $21 million out of the general fund and $50 million out of the transportation fund. That's hard to justify in a tight budget year, especially when half the Prince George's delegation and the county executive are not anxious to see the football stadium built.

Cooke's arrogance

Besides, the arrogance of owner Jack Kent Cooke gives this deal an odoriferous aroma lawmakers cannot abide. And the financial benefits are flimsy compared with the Baltimore stadium. Mr. Cooke's team will train and pay taxes in Virginia, after all, and locating a stadium in the suburbs doesn't generate much ancillary business activity.

In contrast, the Baltimore stadium looks far more appealing. There is, indeed, a substantial economic impact on downtown merchants from placing a football complex in Camden Yards -- not to mention the boost to Baltimore's reputation nationwide. And the stadium would be paid for through additional lottery games, not by taking money from existing budget sources.

Still, the Baltimore stadium is in trouble, too. Mr. Glendening botched the job of rallying the city and state business communities behind this project. And he never studied the lessons of 1987, when the law establishing funding for the Camden Yards stadiums passed.

Back then, initial legislative response to the project was hostile. Even with a $400 million surplus and a governor with an 80 percent approval rating, the Oriole Park endeavor was in deep trouble. Why? Because the governor wanted to pay for the project out of existing general funds. Only when an alternative funding source was found -- new instant lottery games -- did opposition start to dissipate.

That's what needs to happen in 1996. The governor has to find a way to replace the roughly $9 million a year in state money (for three years) needed to make the Baltimore football stadium financing work. How? The answer lies with Art Modell.

The Browns owner so far hasn't entered the stadium-financing discussions. But if he wants to clear the way for construction, Mr. Modell ought to volunteer to pay $30 million of stadium costs out of his own pocket -- either from his personal-seat-license fees or from the enormous profits projected for the Browns.

Eliminate the extra lottery money that would go into the Baltimore stadium, and opposition could begin to fade. Why? Because it would mean that no extra general-fund dollars would be needed to build the stadium. It could be underwritten without taxpayers shelling out more money.

The Redskins problem

Still, there's the nagging Redskins problem. The lack of enthusiasm for this undertaking -- except for House Speaker Casper Taylor, Senate President Mike Miller and the governor -- is stunning. Its unpopularity is enough to bring down the Baltimore stadium, too.

Mr. Glendening must cut the cord tying the two stadiums together. Each one must stand on its own merits.

If the governor is smart, he will blame a Redskins defeat on the refusal of Prince George's county executive Wayne Curry to ante up any local funds for the stadium (especially since Baltimore's mayor has already agreed to do just that). Mr. Cooke can then decide if he wants to proceed using just his own money -- which would actually help his inheritance-tax situation -- or start all over again in Washington or Northern Virginia to find a site and then build an edifice complex.

With the demise of the Cooke deal and the addition of the Modell contribution to the Baltimore stadium, Mr. Glendening would have tens of millions in general-fund money and transportation funds to spread around for schools, roads and pet legislative projects.

The governor cannot afford to lose both stadiums. It would be humiliating. It would plant in the public mind an image of ineptness and weakness. Democrats would be lining up to take him on in 1998.

But if he retreats on the least popular stadium, gets a big private donation to help build the other stadium and uses the newly liberated money for popular local priorities, Mr. Glendening could yet turn a potential debacle into a political plus.

Barry Rascovar is deputy editorial-page editor of The Sun.

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