Modell now tries to win himself a free stadium But some lawmakers want him to come up with $24 million

The Nfl Returns To Baltimore

February 11, 1996|By Thomas W. Waldron and C. Fraser Smith | Thomas W. Waldron and C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

He's officially divorced from Cleveland and he's won over the National Football League owners.

But Browns owner Art Modell faces one more big battle -- persuading a skeptical General Assembly to build him a new stadium in Baltimore without his contributing a penny.

If he holds to that position, the fight could be a bruising one.

Even as NFL owners were voting in Chicago on Friday to let him move, House of Delegates Democrats called on Mr. Modell to pony up $24 million for the new stadium, suggesting that the terms of his departure from Cleveland were more favorable than expected.

"If Art Modell wants this deal he'll have to find $24 million from profits on his skyboxes or reserved seats," said Baltimore Del. Howard P. "Pete" Rawlings, a Democrat.

Mr. Modell reacted sharply to that idea.

"We've got a deal. It's over. Finished," he said Friday during an interview with a Sun reporter in Cleveland.

"I'm sure the governor is an honorable man, and I think he will come through on his original deal."

Later, sounding somewhat more conciliatory, the owner said he would go to Annapolis to meet with Assembly members.

"It would be a travesty if anything were to fall through," he said.

The arrangement

The "original deal," negotiated in secret without any consultation with legislators, calls on the state to build Mr. Modell a $200 million stadium in Camden Yards.

The lease with Mr. Modell is a lucrative one, giving him all of the stadium-related income.

In the months since the deal was first announced, the view that Mr. Modell should share in the construction costs has been accepted by many supporters of the project.

And on Friday, Gov. Parris N. Glendening acknowledged that the deal may have to be modified to guarantee General Assembly passage.

"Mr. Modell and the legislative leaders will be having discussions," the governor said. "I'm sure there will be some positive accommodation."

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. were invited to meet Mr. Modell at the airport Friday evening, but both declined, signaling their view, perhaps, that Mr. Modell must now come to them.

For his part, Mr. Glendening was suggesting Friday that it is time now for the Assembly to decide what specifically it wants. Since the Assembly will insist on having a role in the arrangement, it is not simply the governor's word on the agreement that the team's owner must consider.

Sounding nearly euphoric at what he regarded as improved prospects for the Baltimore stadium, Speaker Taylor was envisioning a triumphal press conference, possibly within two weeks, at which Mr. Modell, having capitulated, publicly accepts new terms and agrees to repay a $24 million loan made to him by the state.

'Certain savings' noted

Said Senate President Miller, "There are going to be certain savings to Mr. Modell. I feel if there are any savings they should go to the cost of construction."

Though the speaker, the Senate president and the governor offered their optimistic assessments, all three realize that a final settlement continues to face resolute opposition.

Even $24 million from Mr. Modell "won't be enough to get the job done," said Del. D. Bruce Poole, one of the proposal's leading opponents.

"I continue to stress it's a matter of context: It's not just a question of whether you're for the stadium but are you for it when there is not enough money for prison construction, not enough for schools, not enough to cover federal budget cutbacks," said the Hagerstown Democrat.

With no current address for his team, Mr. Modell may have considerably less leverage and the Assembly should demand more of the owner's money, Mr. Poole said.

"I don't think he's going back to Cleveland or the NFL to say, 'Over the weekend I changed my mind,' " Mr. Poole said.

However, a change of mind would be useful from Wayne K. Curry, the Prince George's County executive, who has been resisting calls for a contribution to the $73 million cost of infrastructure improvements for a Washington Redskins stadium in Landover.

On Friday, House of Delegates Democrats unveiled a proposal under which Prince George's County would return to the state a portion of the admissions tax revenue it will collect if the stadium is built.

Mr. Curry opposed that idea and proposed instead a parking surcharge that would go to the state.

The parking tax found little support in Annapolis, but the governor and legislators continued to search for a compromise on a county contribution.

Meanwhile, anti-stadium forces are looking for weaknesses. Del. Robert L. Flanagan said he wonders, for example, if Mr. Modell was a sound financial manager in Cleveland.

Was all the financial difficulty the owner faced there a result of the city's failure to support him, as he has said, or did his own handling of the team leave him needing a new venue?

"It's a question you have to ask," said Mr. Flanagan, a Howard County Republican. "We'll be getting the same Art Modell they had in Cleveland."

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