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Redskins, Va. Advance on Stadium

By John F. Harris and Richard Justice
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, July 8, 1992; Page A01

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Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder and Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke signed an agreement last month to negotiate the construction of a football stadium in Alexandria, with the understanding that Cooke would pay roughly half of a planned $250 million deal to build the stadium and the state would provide the other half for public improvements.

The letter of intent, which sources said was signed June 12 at Cooke's home in the District, doesn't commit Virginia or Cooke to a stadium at the Potomac Yard site south of National Airport.

But Wilder's secretary of economic development, Cathleen Magennis, said the letter shows that "the principals are of like mind and share like intent to go forward in good faith" on a deal.

Two sources said Cooke and Wilder are expected to meet again today to sign a second agreement, more precise in its details than the pact reached last month.

Alexandria Mayor Patricia S. Ticer, who has expressed skepticism about the stadium plan and its impact on her city, said Wilder and Magennis told her in a phone conversation yesterday morning that the state government would provide $130 million to help lure the Redskins across the Potomac.

Wilder and Cooke, according to sources, envision that a state contribution would be used to pay for nearby road improvements and the construction of one and perhaps two Metrorail stations on the existing Blue and Yellow lines.

The letter of intent is the clearest signal yet that Cooke is earnest about moving the Redskins out of the District after the breakdown of negotiations with D.C. officials in the spring. The fact that Wilder clearly has laid his bets on the state-controlled Potomac Yard site also eliminates -- at least for now -- serious discussion of other locations in Northern Virginia, sources said.

But most particulars of the deal Wilder is trying to broker remain shrouded in secrecy. Wilder aides declined yesterday to release the letter of intent, saying it is not covered by the state's Freedom of Information Act. And Cooke, in an interview, would not acknowledge the existence of the letter.

D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly was out of town late yesterday and could not be reached for comment. Her press secretary, Vada Manager, said D.C. officials had no firsthand knowledge of Cooke's negotiations with Wilder.

Potomac Yard is a former rail switching yard that is now controlled by the Virginia Retirement System, the pension fund for state employees. VRS, a state agency run by Wilder appointees, won control of the site last year when it took over RF&P Corp., the real estate arm of the now-defunct Richmond Fredericksburg & Potomac railroad.

Wilder said earlier this week that bringing a stadium to Virginia would involve creation of a special authority that could sell bonds. It is the sale of these bonds, presumably to be repaid with a tax on ticket sales and concessions at the stadium, that would pay for the state's share of the deal, according to those knowledgeable about the negotiations.

Ticer, like most Alexandria elected officials, has said she is worried that the stadium would be less profitable for the city than other types of development at Potomac Yard and would place too great a burden on roads and police.

Wilder scolded Alexandria officials on Monday for being critical of a deal that the governor thinks would generate enormous prestige and profit. He was more conciliatory in his conversation with Ticer yesterday, the mayor said.

"He was very, very soft," Ticer said, adding that many Alexandria officials are upset that they were not informed earlier of the Wilder-Cooke negotiations. "He's got a lot of making up to do."

Ticer said Alexandria officials are worried that because the state is involved in the deal the city might not be able to collect taxes on the stadium site or that the state might try to override its ordinary zoning and land-use powers.

"The impression I got {from Wilder} is that there would be no such attempt" to strip Alexandria of tax revenue or legal authority, Ticer said. "He was somewhat reassuring."

Other Alexandria officials remained irked. "Can you believe this was signed June 12 and we just learned of it today?" asked council member David G. Speck (R).

The first hints that Cooke was interested in Potomac Yard were in early spring, according to sources, and discussions with RF&P began not long after. But council member Kerry J. Donley (D) said the first any Alexandria official heard about a stadium was June 23, when RF&P President Rory Riggs told City Manager Vola Lawson about the possibility.

If Virginia antes up $130 million, that would essentially be twice what the District has said it is willing to give Cooke in concessions to keep his team in Washington.

In personal terms, a Potomac Yard deal also would be a stunning victory for Wilder over Kelly. Kelly and Wilder are friends and former social companions, but they have not discussed the case, Wilder said earlier this week.

"We believe we have the best site for a stadium in this region," said Kelly spokesman Manager.

Even if Cooke and Wilder, who often sits in the Redskins owner's box at football games, reach a meeting of minds, other obstacles would remain. A stadium authority of the sort Wilder contemplates would require approval by the General Assembly.

Sources said Cooke has retained for his negotiations Alexandria lawyer William G. Thomas, a leading Virginia lobbyist, whose influence in Richmond could be important to winning legislative approval. Thomas did not return phone calls yesterday.

Magennis and RF&P's Riggs met for 2 1/2 hours yesterday afternoon with Ticer, Lawson and other officials, hoping to mend fences and assure officials that the state would closely study the costs and benefits of a stadium for the city.

The City Council has called an emergency session for tomorrow and officials said Riggs will explain the project in some detail. One source who asked not to be identified but is familiar with the negotiations between Cooke and Wilder said tomorrow is expected to be the day for a formal announcement.

"I get the sense that it's moving along pretty quickly," said J. Thomas Brannan, assistant Alexandria city manager.

It is apparent, though, that some council members will not drop their opposition to a stadium, despite the prestige and popularity of the Super Bowl champion Redskins. "Stadiums like this do not make good neighbors," said Redella S. "Del" Pepper (D), who worries not just about Redskins games but also rock concerts.

In discussions about other possible stadium sites, Cooke has insisted that he get the land for free. At Potomac Yard, RF&P most likely would lease the land to Cooke for a stadium at a nominal rate, according to a source. This would be a good deal for RF&P, the source said, because the land next to the stadium would increase in value.

VRS, the owner of RF&P, cannot simply give concessions to Cooke. It is required by law to maximize profits for state government pensioners.

Large subsidies to attract businesses are not unprecedented in Virginia. Last year, prodded by Wilder, the General Assembly voted to back a $230 million package, to be financed over 20 years, in hopes of persuading United Airlines to locate a maintenance facility at Dulles International Airport. United ultimately chose a better deal in Indiana.

Staff writers Donald P. Baker, Peter Baker, Robert F. Howe and James Ragland contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1992 The Washington Post Company

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