Corporate leaders, governor, citizens battle on stadiums PTA organizations argue for other priorities

February 16, 1996|By Thomas W. Waldron and C. Fraser Smith | Thomas W. Waldron and C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

Parent-teacher organizations squared off against corporate executives as the rhetorical battle over two football stadiums intensified yesterday.

In one corner, Gov. Parris N. Glendening and a heavy-hitting group of corporate leaders evoked past Maryland sports glories as they hailed stadium deals for Baltimore City and Prince George's County as good for business and good for state morale.

Weighing in against the two projects was a new coalition of PTA leaders, homeless advocates and others, who argued that Maryland has too many pressing problems to be spending vast public sums to attract NFL teams.

"We think the need for education is much more important than stadiums," said Rita Ridgley, president of the Baltimore City Council of PTAs, who attended an Annapolis news conference to oppose the stadium projects. "We don't need our kids growing )) up selling peanuts."

As the public debate raged on, the private deal-making proceeded.

Legislative leaders, the governor and others continued to search for a formula that will secure General Assembly approval of the two stadiums.

Key lawmakers are determined to reduce the state's costs by modifying the agreements Mr. Glendening has made on the two deals -- $200 million for a Baltimore stadium for the former Cleveland Browns and $73 million for infrastructure for the Redskins park in Landover.

Glendening administration officials yesterday received a welcome piece of legal advice from state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., who said nearly all of the state expenditures for the Redskins stadium can be plucked from the transportation trust fund.

If they follow that strategy, administration officials would be spared the procedural headache of passing planned Redskins stadium legislation.

However, the Redskins expenditures still will require approval by the legislature along with the rest of the state budget.

To PTA members and others who suggest that Maryland has itpriorities askew, Mr. Glendening and an assembly of businessmen yesterday offered a counterview: schools, community centers and other projects only can be supported if there is revenue -- from stadiums among other sources.

"These projects are money makers; they are not money takers," the governor told the business leaders over breakfast in Columbia.

In the first year, he said, the two stadiums will cover costs and provide "a net plus" of $3 million in tax revenues to state and local governments.

However, opponents contend that his projection is overly optimistic.

In making his case with numbers, Mr. Glendening spoke against a backdrop of sporting glory -- and despair.

The governor unveiled a pro-stadium multimedia presentation showing the Mayflower moving vans taking the Colts to Indianapolis in 1984; the night of celebration when Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive games streak; former Redskins fullback John Riggins scoring during a Super Bowl XVII in 1983; pictures of Oriole Park at Camden Yards and renderings of two new football palaces.

The message was clear to the businessmen.

"I didn't miss a Colts game," said Willard Hackerman, chief executive of Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., who introduced the governor. Mr. Hackerman said Maryland must have the excitement of professional football and offered himself as a a typical fan.

Others in the audience of about 100 said the stadiums issue has gone beyond sports and, perhaps, beyond the bottom line.

The games and the revenue are important, they said, but the honor of the state and its future as a welcoming place for corporations is at stake.

"A commitment was made and we've really got to live up to it," said Christian H. Poindexter, chief executive of BGE Corp. "If it fails, it'll be a real setback."

But to people such as Cindy Petrecca, head of the Charles County Council of PTAs, the setback will come if the state spends money on stadiums instead of on education.

"What are we really looking for in the state of Maryland?" said Ms. Petrecca, co-chair of CLIP, a newly formed anti-stadium group. "There are many many other needs around the state."

Leaders of CLIP, which stands for Citizens for Legitimate Investment Priorities, said the coalition represents 15 educational, environmental and civic groups from around the state.

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