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Preliminaries for New Stadium Dragging On

By Christine Brennan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 28, 1989; Page B01

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Although the Washington Redskins' lease at RFK Stadium expires at the end of the 1990 season, the land proposed for a new stadium remains untouched, and District of Columbia officials and team owner Jack Kent Cooke are playing a tenuous waiting game with one another.

D.C. officials say they are frustrated in their dealings with Cooke over when and how he plans to build a 78,000-seat stadium next to RFK. One official said the city has yet to see plans from Cooke, even though Cooke said he would submit a plan for parking in July. Furthermore city officials are concerned Cooke could be planning a stadium in Northern Virginia, and are discussing their response.

In August 1987 Cooke said he wanted a modern football stadium, complete with skyboxes, in the District. The site city officials are working with is Parking Lots 6 and 7 near RFK Stadium. Cooke agreed to build the stadium; the city agreed to assume responsibility for the infrastructure and parking for the facility.

Last December the National Park Service, which holds title to the land, told Mayor Marion Barry that it opposed a plan to use Langston Golf Course or a filled-in portion of the Anacostia River to provide parking for the stadium.

The park service, which is kept abreast of developments by the city, will have to approve any further plans. As with any major development project, especially one on the waterfront, such as this, an environmental assessment study also is necessary.

According to a series of letters obtained by The Washington Post, last month Cooke told Barry that his first choice for a stadium is the District, but he intends "to have 'fallback' sites should circumstances warrant the removal of the stadium to a site other than the one in the District of Columbia." A source said Cooke has expressed an interest in Northern Virginia as one of the "fallback" sites and is concerned about dealing with the D.C. and federal bureaucracies.

Cooke, who has not yet signed a memorandum of understanding with District officials, also said in the letters that he has his own architects, engineers and consultants working on stadium plans. D.C. officials say they haven't been involved with those people.

Cooke told Barry in a letter dated Aug. 28, 1989, that a new stadium cannot be ready by 1992, as was planned.

"There's not a chance in the world that the new Redskins Stadium will be built and ready for use by August of 1992," Cooke wrote. "Preliminary engineering and design work well under way will not be completed in time to reach the original target date. Our current estimate for the opening of the new stadium is now September 1993."

But D.C. officials say they don't know what engineering or design work Cooke is referring to because no city representative working with Cooke has seen the plans.

Final environmental, financial and architectural arrangements to build a stadium in Washington cannot be made until Cooke shares the plans with the city, said Artis Hampshire-Cowan, general counsel to the D.C. Armory Board. Hampshire-Cowan was hired in April 1988 specifically to be the liaison between the city and Cooke in the stadium negotiations. She said in an interview that Cooke has not yet signed any agreements with the city or produced any plans for a new stadium.

"Mr. Cooke has yet to submit to us anything in writing about what it is he's planning to build," she said. "No plan. No nothing. It's been two years. We'd like to see something."

Barry wrote in an Aug. 23, 1989, letter to Cooke: "While we have maintained a dialogue over the past year, there has been limited progress toward actualizing the construction of a new stadium."

Answered Cooke on Aug. 28: "I must take issue when you say there has been 'limited progress . . . ' My architects, engineers and consultants for the new stadium have been working diligently and expeditiously towards completing the final drafts for the new stadium."

Barry asked Cooke to sign a memorandum of understanding regarding the time schedule for the various financial, environmental and architectural agreements necessary to construct the facility. Barry specifically asked Cooke to sign the agreement, provide the final development plans for the stadium and begin to work "personally and intensively with me to obtain community, park service and congressional approval."

Cooke responded: "Since we are months away from obtaining a 'final development plan' for the stadium, I feel it premature even to consider discussing your proposed agreement."

One of the clauses in the memorandum Barry sent to Cooke is a request that the Redskins make available 3,900 general admission seats -- first-come, first-served -- for each home game.

And, "District residents shall also receive priority in the purchase of general admission season tickets," the proposed memorandum said.

There was no reaction from Cooke on the general admission, first-come, first-served seat proposal, although, in a letter dated April 20, 1989, Cooke told Barry he "cannot . . . accommodate {the} request that we make more seats available in the new stadium for District residents," saying the Redskins' "first loyalty" was to fans on the season-ticket waiting list.

The city, fearful Cooke might build elsewhere, has considered filing a lawsuit that would enjoin the team from using the name of Washington with the team nickname, sources said. But other cities, including New York, were unsuccessful in similar legal action after teams moved to nearby communities.

The city also is considering enlisting congressional support to keep the Redskins in the District. Another possibility being discussed by city officials is ordering the team to leave RFK Stadium once its lease runs out after the 1990 season.

Informed of these possibilities, Cooke said, "I'm surprised to hear these threats. Certainly they do not form the basis of a good working relationship."

Cooke wrote in his letter to Barry that he needs the Redskins' RFK lease to be extended by three years, to 1993, to conform with Cooke's new stadium goal. This apparently could become a bargaining chip if the city fears the Redskins are leaving.

It's possible the proposed Independent Baseball League, if it ever becomes a reality, also will be part of an RFK lease arrangement.

© Copyright 1989 The Washington Post Company

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