'I signed a deal,' Modell declares Team owner is cool to plans to revise stadium financing

February 14, 1996|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Football team owner Art Modell said yesterday that he sees little room to maneuver over financial terms for a Baltimore stadium, but that he will go to Annapolis and do what is "reasonable" to overcome opposition to the deal in the General Assembly.

Speaking by phone from his vacation home in Florida, Mr. Modell said: "The team has nothing to chip in right now. We're over-extended. There is no room for chipping in."

His comments come as many legislators, stung by public opposition to the proposed $200 million in state spending on the stadium, are attempting to revise financing for the deal.

Under a proposal supported by several key lawmakers in the House of Delegates, Mr. Modell would be required to contribute $24 million to the project.

"I signed a deal in good faith; now some people are popping up and saying they want to change the deal," Mr. Modell said. "I thought [approval] would be automatic."

Saying he knew little about the $24 million proposal, he added: "If they want us to look at it, we'll look at it."

In other stadium-related developments yesterday:

* Representatives of the Maryland Stadium Authority took their case to the public, explaining the deal to about 80 people at a hearing in Essex last night.

* Tension over the stadium issue broke open on the floor of the state Senate, as lawmakers squabbled over an implication by opponents that key legislators were stalling anti-stadium bills.

Mr. Modell, who endured vilification in Cleveland by moving the Browns, said he never expected that he would have to fight for stadium financing in the Maryland legislature.

One of his top aides was expected to come to Annapolis this week to meet with lawmakers -- "snoop out the hot spots," Mr. Modell said. The owner himself might make an appearance as early as next week.

He said the concerns in Annapolis are distracting him from the business of settling into a new home, marketing his team in Baltimore and finding a site for a training facility.

"This diversion comes at a bad time," Mr. Modell said. "I can't have this cloud over us."

At the hearing in Essex last night, John A. Moag, the Stadium Authority's chairman, explained the nine-year history of the Camden Yards project to a group that seemed evenly divided between supporters and detractors.

The hearing -- the first of several around the state -- focused primarily on the Baltimore stadium, with only scant attention to the state's plan to spend $73 million to help the Redskins build in Prince George's County.

Mr. Moag stressed the tax revenue and economic development the Baltimore facility will generate. "This is a little different than investing in a park or a zoo," he said. "Not only do we get football back, we get dollars back immediately."

Bruce H. Hoffman, the Stadium Authority's executive director, tried to dispel the sentiment that Maryland is simply giving money to a rich team owner.

"What we're not doing is wheeling in $200 million in gold coins and dumping them at the foot of some millionaire," Mr. Hoffman said. "I know that's what some of you believe."

Many in the audience seemed unconvinced, peppering the officials with questions about the project's economics.

'Put it on the ballot?'

"The stadium is taking money out of the pockets of the public," said John D. O'Neill, head of the Maryland Taxpayers Association. "If you're so sure about your good thing, why don't you put it on the ballot and let the people vote on it?"

But several stadium supporters praised the project, with one fan asking questions about his request for season tickets.

Earlier yesterday in the Senate, 15 stadium opponents struck a nerve with a letter sent to two committee chairmen that implied that legislative leaders are sitting on bills that seek to kill the stadium deals.

"We have noticed that hearings have not yet been scheduled on [the anti-stadium legislation], though other bills introduced later are already on the schedule," the letter said.

The chairmen of the two committees bristled at the insinuation.

In a brief but pointed reply from the floor, Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, chairman of the Finance Committee, said the anti-stadium bills would receive a full hearing -- and he suggested that stadium opponents were angling for publicity.

'Plenty' of TV coverage

"There is going to be plenty of time for us to get on TV on this issue," said Mr. Bromwell, a Baltimore County Democrat.

Added Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, the Baltimore Democrat who chairs the Budget and Taxation Committee: "We have tried to be very collegial in this body. But it is breaking down and it will break down quickly."

The remarks prompted an apology from Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery Democrat who helped draft the three-paragraph letter from the stadium opponents.

The letter underscored the uphill effort facing anti-stadium lawmakers, who must overcome support for the projects from the governor and the legislature's presiding officers.

"They have a lot of tools at their disposal. We do not have any," Mr. Frosh said. "All we have is public opinion."

Mr. Frosh said anti-stadium forces are counting on making their points at what would surely be a well publicized committee hearing in Annapolis.

But it's crucial, he said, to have the hearing before the legislature begins voting on the state budget -- which contains authorization for both stadiums -- and their opposition bills become moot.

"It would be perhaps irrelevant to have hearings after the budget has been passed," Mr. Frosh said.

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