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  Cooke, Pollin Discuss Proposed Sports Facility

By Leonard Shapiro and Mark Asher
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, December 10, 1993; Page D01

Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke already has had a preliminary conversation with Abe Pollin about taking his Washington Bullets and Capitals to Laurel, according to sources familiar with the situation. Such a move could provide the Washington area with a sports complex that would include a new football stadium, new multi-purpose arena and the already existing Laurel Race Course.

Though neither Cooke nor Pollin was available to comment yesterday, USAir Arena President Jerry Sachs reiterated yesterday that Pollin was interested in exploring the proposition.

He also said he and Pollin will look into the possibility of relocating in the District of Columbia as part of a new plan to convert the current D.C. Convention Center into a multi-purpose sports arena.

George W. Brown, the District's assistant administrator for economic development, said yesterday he already had placed a call to Sachs and will aggressively pursue the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League teams. The District, which hasn't given up in its attempt to keep Cooke from moving the Redskins, is hopeful of building a new convention center near the current facility by 1997.

"I don't want to miss a beat on this," Brown said. "This is a fabulous possibility to have a sports facility outside of Largo. We're not sitting still. ... I don't know what Mr. Pollin and Mr. Sachs are interested in, so I'm taking this as an opportunity to find out what's out there."

Brown said a proposed renovation of the Convention Center would provide between 18,000 to 20,000 seats. USAir Arena now seats about 18,000, and Pollin has said he plans a major renovation of the building this summer to improve the lighting and the concourse sections.

According to sources, Pollin also has looked into the possibility of moving down the arena's sky suites, for a better view of events, at a cost of about $30 million. A total renovation of the building could cost as much as $70 million, and sources say Pollin probably could build a brand new arena for $90 million to $100 million.

Pollin built Capital Centre 20 years ago for $16 million. He recently signed a 10-year agreement with USAir to rename the building that provides about $1 million a year over the length of the contract. Last summer, Pollin also refinanced the mortgage on the arena. As part of that refinancing, the leases for the Capitals and Bullets were extended by 15 years to at least the year 2012. Pollin leases the land where the arena is located from the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

Asked about the leases earlier in the week, Sachs said: "something could be worked out."

Sachs said yesterday he would be "interested in talking" to Cooke and to District officials "if they were interested in talking to us, so that we understand what it is they have in mind. We are interested in understanding what the possibilities are so we can digest it and go from there."

Sachs also said yesterday the latest developments could put a hold on planned renovations of USAir Arena.

Joe De Francis, the Laurel Race Course owner who is negotiating to sell Cooke a 55-acre parcel of land, said yesterday that "in my discussions with Mr. Cooke, the thought of Abe Pollin being involved was never any kind of pre-condition to undertaking this {stadium} project." He added that he believed Cooke would proceed "with or without" Pollin.

Georgetown University Athletic Director Frank Rienzo said yesterday he was intrigued by the latest talk on a downtown arena.

"It's an additional option to pursue and one that's the best of all worlds," said Rienzo, whose Hoyas play their home basketball games at USAir Arena. "To be in the city with our friends from Centre Management, the Bullets and the Capitals would be good for them and good for us. Most important, it would be good for the city."

George Washington University Athletic Director Steve Bilsky added: "You could be sure that GW and Georgetown would play most, if not all of their games there. The time is near for us to seek a larger arena." GW plays in Smith Center on campus, a 5,000-seat facility whose season tickets are sold out this season for the first time in school history.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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