Cooke Says He'll Pay for Stadium

By Tom Friend
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 27, 1988; Page A01

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Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke pledged yesterday to foot the entire bill for a new, 78,000-seat, open-air, natural-grass stadium -- preferably within Washington's city limits -- and said he hoped his team could move in as early as the 1991 season.

Speaking at the Redskins' annual "Welcome Home" luncheon at the Sheraton Washington Hotel, Cooke, 75, departed from his previous stance that the District of Columbia should finance a new Redskins home.

He previously had said he might consider moving the team to the suburbs, possibly Loudoun County, if the District refused to accommodate his team.

So, it was an about-face yesterday, with his only conditions being that someone, some organization or some principality lease him the land and provide for the parking.

Furthermore, he said it was his intention in the future -- "precisely when, I don't know" -- to donate the stadium to the "authority" that leases him the land.

The Redskins' 30-year lease at RFK Stadium expires after the 1990 season.

Cooke's announcement -- and his stated preference to keep the team in Washington -- drew overwhelming applause from a large crowd at the Sheraton Washington Hotel, as did the announcement that he has signed quarterback Doug Williams to a three-year contract worth between $3.2 million and $3.5 million.

"We are historically the Washington Redskins," Cooke said, "and Washington's the nation's capital, if not the capital of the world. And I believe all of us should think long and hard before permitting the team to abandon the city."

At that point, he issued a challenge of sorts to Washington Mayor Marion Barry to come up with the land, saying: "So, I say let's get on with it, let's hear from the District of Columbia and any other authority which is prepared to lease the land . . . I've made this {preference to stay in the District} clear to Mayor Marion Shepilov {a middle name assumed by the mayor while in college} Barry Jr. . . . Let there be no question of where my sentiments lie."

Sources involved in the negotiations between the Redskins and the city estimate the cost of a stadium Cooke envisions would be between $125 million and $150 million. Cooke has said he admires Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., and Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.

Cooke's preference is for a site at Langston Golf Course, near RFK. But that site is unacceptable to the mayor.

John C. White, the mayor's spokesperson, said Barry was declining comment yesterday, having not seen Cooke's proposal, but hoped to speak with Cooke next week.

Meanwhile, Jim Dalrymple, general manager for the D.C. Armory Board, called Cooke's intentions a "complete surprise" and said a new stadium could be "a very, big boon for the District." For instance, a new structure would enhance Washington's chances of hosting the World Cup finals in 1994, which were previously appeared headed for either Miami or Los Angeles. Traditionally, the host country's capital city hosts the final, assuming there's a proper, large-sized facility.

Dalrymple also said, "Of course, the Armory Board will have to get together and see what kind of proposal can be made on the part of the District of Columbia." Neither Stuart J. Long nor D.C. National Guard General Calvin Franklin -- who with the mayor make up the Armory Board -- could be reached for comment.

Cooke said he did not believe it would be difficult to find someone to lease him the land. He described all the "miles of red tape" he went through to build an arena in Inglewood, Calif., more than 20 years ago -- known now as the Forum -- and he said he used that experience to help him come to yesterday's decision.

"Bearing in mind what I went through in building the Forum -- the monumental red tape, the bickering, the arguing, the changes of mind that I faced from the city . . . and state authorities -- it was easy to conclude that the quickest, the most efficient and most economical ways to bring . . . the 78,000-seat stadium for the Redskins and for you devoted fans is to me crystal clear . . . pay for the entire cost of a new football stadium."

Cooke's holdings have been estimated at $2 billion, and he said recently he is considering the sale of his cable television properties, likely to command a price in excess of $1.4 billion.

His reasons for finding the Redskins' current home, Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, inadequate are, among other things, the relatively small seating capacity (55,000), the lack of lucrative sky-boxes and a lease that does not allow the Redskins to share in parking or concessions revenues.

Naturally, Redskins players and coaches are sentimentally attached to RFK -- the players because the natural turf field is forgiving to their knees and feet, the coaches because of the enormous home field advantage. Coach Joe Gibbs said yesterday, "I'm going to be a tough guy to move over {to a new stadium}, but I'll go."

Gibbs talked dreamily about the eerie RFK tunnel that visiting teams must walk through and its unsettling effect on opponents. "There's crud dripping down on them when they come running out on the field," he said.

Cooke painted a drastically different picture of his dream-place-to-play, highlighted by his decision to retain a grass field. Players nodded when he said that, and then he went on to say, "It will have {unparalleled} sightlines, it will be located in an excessible part of our community, it will have easy entrances and exits, it will have sensible service parking, it will be within spitting distance of a Metrorail station, it will be spanking-new, it will be a true football stadium and will be scrupulously maintained.

"Pipe dream? Not a bit," he added. "The Forum wasn't a pipe dream. The new stadium will be just as agreeable, just as comfortable and just as handsome as the Forum. Believe me, that's as inevitable as tomorrow."

And Cooke's vocal cords reached their most thunderous pitch when, again, he emphasized the stadium was on him, "without a penny's cost to you wonderful citizens . . . I'll not seek any financing for the stadium, not from a local government, not from a regional government, not from a state government, not from a federal government, not from any damn government."

© Copyright 1988 The Washington Post Company

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