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Modell Announces Browns' Move to Baltimore

By Charles Babington and Ken Denlinger
Washington Post Staff Writers
November 7, 1995

BALTIMORE, NOV. 6 -- Eleven years after losing its beloved Colts, Baltimore exulted today in the announcement that the Cleveland Browns, one of the National Football League's historic franchises, will move here to a $200 million publicly financed stadium to be built near Oriole Park at Camden Yards by 1998.

In a pep-rally atmosphere, with more than a hundred uninvited fans cheering at the site of the proposed stadium, Gov. Parris N. Glendening stood beside Browns owner Art Modell and delivered the long-awaited good news to this city for which the Colts were a source of civic pride and identity from 1947 to 1984.

"This is truly a proud moment in the long and rich history of this proud city of Baltimore and this state of Maryland," Glendening (D) said.

Possible impediments to the move to Baltimore still stand in the way. Cleveland obtained a judge's temporary restraining order today to prevent the team from moving before a Nov. 20 hearing. Modell said he planned to move the franchise to Baltimore after the regular season ends in December.

The 30 NFL owners could try to block the move with as few as seven votes, although some legal specialists say recent team transfers have chipped away at the league's authority. League officials said they would not vote on the Browns' proposed move before January.

"I'm not worried about the league," Modell said today.

Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke, who has opposed placing a team in Baltimore, congratulated Modell and wished him luck. {See related story, Page B1.}

At the same time, Cooke reported progress in his negotiations to build his own stadium in Maryland. In a conversation today before the Baltimore announcement, Cooke said, Glendening gave him assurances that the cost of on-site and off-site improvements in Landover "will be handled."

No one appeared happier today than former governor William Donald Schaefer, who was mayor of Baltimore when the Colts departed on a snowy night. As governor, Schaefer was instrumental in putting into place the funding authority for today's deal. Schaefer, who sat in the front row at today's news conference, called it a "great day" but blamed Cooke and NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue for thwarting Baltimore's earlier efforts to attract a team.

Tagliabue told ABC-TV at halftime of today's game between Dallas and Philadelphia: "I can't say it's all over {for Cleveland}. From the league's point of view, it's just the beginning."

Maryland officials said the Browns are grabbing the most lucrative NFL stadium deal in the country: a rent-free, $200 million stadium; all proceeds from parking, concessions and advertising signage; and permission to charge as much as $80 million in one-time "seat license" fees to fans wishing to buy season tickets. The Maryland Stadium Authority will receive $5 million from seat licenses.

"I had no choice" but to accept it, Modell said.

Under the plan, the Baltimore Browns would play for two years in aging Memorial Stadium, which was home to the Colts until they departed for Indianapolis. The Maryland Stadium Authority plans to spend about $1 million to spruce up Memorial Stadium and add about 13,000 temporary seats to its current 52,000, said Bruce H. Hoffman, its executive director.

The Browns would open the 1998 season in the new, 70,000-seat stadium next door to the Baltimore Orioles' Camden Yards facility, which is considered a trend-setter in baseball and a major boost to downtown's image.

The stadium would include 108 luxury suites, 7,500 "club seats" and other features that could enable Modell to clear annual profits of $30 million. Modell said he has lost millions in Cleveland despite frequent home-game sellouts. He recently complained about vacant luxury booths and the city's spending on new baseball and basketball facilities, as well as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

But Modell, who said he plans to live in Baltimore, said he was sad to leave his home of three decades. "I am deeply sorry from the bottom of my heart," he told the many Cleveland reporters covering the event.

Glendening said he and Modell quietly signed an agreement aboard a parked airplane Oct. 27. Today, Glendening said the Browns franchise will create the equivalent of about 1,400 full-time jobs in the Baltimore area, not counting the numerous construction workers needed for the 32-month stadium-building project.

Maryland residents will make a substantial contribution. Currently, about $21 million from state lotteries go to the Maryland Stadium Authority, which built Camden Yards and will construct the football facility on a large parking lot next door. That amount will rise to about $30 million annually for the next two years, Hoffman said.

Meanwhile, Maryland could lose millions that the Orioles pay in stadium rent a year. Orioles officials said that the baseball team's lease with the state contains a "parity clause" guaranteeing the club equal treatment with any deal a football team would negotiate. Thus, the Orioles believe that if the Browns don't pay any rent, they won't have to either. Sources said the Orioles pay $6 million to $7 million annually.

During today's news conference, a handful of protesters and a loud heckler accused Glendening of misplaced priorities. They noted that Glendening already has proposed cuts in Maryland's welfare benefits and sharp curtailment of the Disability Assistance Loan Program (DALP), which is designed to help the homeless and the disabled. "How can we afford a stadium and not DALP?" read one sign.

Some Washington area legislators also questioned the state's financial commitment to the project.

"I think it is a scam on the public," said state Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George's). "I remain outraged that the state would spend $200 million to build a stadium with public funds, and then on top of that they want to charge fees to buy seats . . . so they get an extra $50 million as a cash bonus."

For Marylanders still skeptical about whether the team will actually move, Model offered words of assurance.

Modell said the Baltimore offer will allow him to enjoy revenue that would not be possible in Cleveland, even if voters there approve a tax referendum Tuesday designed to renovate Municipal Stadium.

"What is required, and what we have here, is far beyond the capacity of the community in Cleveland," Modell said. "I was not going to be put in the position of demanding something and then be accused time and time again of being an extortionist, shake-down artist, what have you."

The move from Cleveland to Baltimore has some historical symmetry.

The Browns were founded in Cleveland in 1946; the Colts in Baltimore in 1947. Both teams began in the All-America Football Conference and joined the NFL in 1950, when the AAFC folded.

Contrary to popular belief, the Browns were not named for their famous coach Paul Brown. Rather, they were called the Brown Bombers, after the nickname of the revered boxer of that era, Joe Louis. The name later was shortened to the Browns.

Modell, a 70-year-old Brooklyn, N.Y., native who made his fortune in advertising, bought the Browns in 1961. His 1964 team won the NFL title by beating the Colts, 27-0. Four years later, the Colts scored a 34-0 victory over the Browns in the NFL title game that put them in Super Bowl III, which they lost to the New York Jets.

Before this season, Modell's Browns had been in 20 playoff games in 15 seasons. Only three teams, the Dallas Cowboys, Oakland Raiders and Minnesota Vikings, have been in more playoff games during his time in the league.

There may not be a more establishment owner in the NFL than Modell. He served as league president from 1967 to 1969 and was chairman of its TV committee for 31 years. As a member of the NFL-American Football League merger committee in 1969, he helped break a realignment impasse by joining two other old-line NFL teams, the Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers, in a move to what became the American Football Conference.

Several yards from the news conference, a crowd of more than 100 showed passion for and against the move. A man who held a sign that said, "Art Modell, we love you, man," stood very close to a man who held a sign that simply read: "$hame." Onlookers who drove to the news conference were charged $4 to park in the lot. Staff writers Michael Abramowitz, Mark Maske, Bill Miller, Terry M. Neal and Paul W. Valentine contributed to this report.

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© 1995 The Washington Post Company