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Cooke Sees Stadium in '94 Season

By Richard Justice
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 27, 1992; Page A01

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Less than two months after Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke broke off negotiations with the District of Columbia, sources familiar with his plans said yesterday that Cooke intends to build a new stadium for his National Football League team in time for the 1994 season. One of the sources said Cooke will announce final plans in June for the facility, which will cost $175 million and seat 78,600.

Cooke indicated the seriousness of his intentions last week, when he attended his first NFL owners meeting in a decade to discuss methods of financing the stadium. He declined, however, to disclose to the owners where the stadium would be built.

The owners gave Cooke the assurances he sought that the league's revenue-sharing policies would remain unchanged and that he could use the revenue from the sale of luxury skyboxes and expensive club seats to help finance building the facility. It has been estimated Cooke could make $20 million to $25 million a year from rentals of luxury suites.

Cooke declined yesterday to discuss details, but did say he was moving forward with construction plans. "I believe it will be the finest stadium in America until someone builds a better one," he said. "That is our object, and I think we'll reach our goal. The commissioner {Paul Tagliabue} is delighted with my proposal to build a new stadium. One of his ambitions is for every club in the NFL to play in a stadium built solely for football."

The site of the stadium remains unresolved. On April 2 Cooke broke off negotiations with the District to build a facility next to RFK Stadium and has told at least one associate he has settled on a site in Northern Virginia. But a source familiar with the owner's plans said there was "a slim, very slim" chance negotiations with the District could reopen.

A spokesman for Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly said last night that she is unaware of any plans Cooke may have for building a stadium in Virginia, and doubted any such reports were true. "We're still operating under the premise, as he's stated in letters, that his first preference is to remain in the District," said Vada Manager, Kelly's spokesman.

Three sites in Virginia have been discussed as possible homes for the new stadium -- one at the Shirley Highway (I-395)-Edsall Road junction in Fairfax County inside the Beltway, one near the Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax County outside the Beltway and one in Loudoun County north of Dulles International Airport. The source familar with Cooke's thinking said yesterday that the Loudoun County site was the most likely.

George Barton, chairman of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, said he has had discussions with Cooke's staff on a couple of Loudoun locations. "We've been pursuing it very aggressively, but quietly," he said.

If Cooke is serious about moving the Redskins to Northern Virginia, it would leave the District without a professional sports team for the first time since the turn of the century. The Washington Senators departed RFK Stadium for Dallas/Fort Worth after the 1971 season, and the city has been without major league baseball since. The Redskins have played their games in the District since moving from Boston in 1937. They played at Griffith Stadium from 1937 until moving to the current facility, originally named D.C. Stadium, in 1961.

In August 1987 Cooke announced plans to build a stadium and immediately began negotiations with District officials. They have lasted 4 1/2 years without a conclusion. Cooke appeared on the verge of an agreement several times, and at different times both former mayor Marion Barry and his successor, Kelly, believed they'd reached deals.

Each time Cooke backed off or made new demands. Then on April 2, when city officials again thought they had a deal, Cooke pulled out of discussions. He declined to give a reason, but appears to have feared that clearing Environmental Protection Agency hurdles and several expected lawsuits from neighborhood groups would delay the project. At the time, Cooke wanted the facility finished in time to host portions of the 1994 World Cup soccer tournament.

District officials were skeptical about Cooke's proceeding with stadium construction after he abruptly pulled out of negotiations that essentially were finished. He told Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr. he could not meet an April 3 deadline for concluding negotiations with the District. Cooke had hoped to use federal land for parking for the new stadium, but when he failed to meet the deadline Lujan said the land would be used for other projects.

RFK Stadium is the NFL's smallest facility with a capacity of 55,683 and has no luxury suites or club seats. League sources say the Redskins also have one of the NFL's least favorable leases, and Cooke recently threatened a move to Baltimore before signing a two-year extension.

The extension is the same as the original 30-year lease that expired after the 1990 season. Cooke wanted a deal similar to one the team had in 1991, when it received 20 percent of concession revenue, 25 percent of parking revenue and 25 percent of in-house stadium advertising revenue as well as paying a reduced percentage of regular season and postseason ticket sales to the Armory Board as rent.

Instead, he got the original terms that former Redskins owner George Preston Marshall agreed to in 1960. That lease requires the Redskins to pay 12 percent of its ticket revenue for the regular season and 15 percent during the postseason. The Redskins receive no revenue from parking, concessions or advertising. The interim deal was offered to the team in 1991 at a time when the Redskins and the District were negotiating on the new stadium.

Cooke was unhappy with the arrangement, pointing out that it wasn't as good as the deal the District had offered Metropolitan Washington Baseball, which was unsuccessful in obtaining a National League expansion franchise last year.

After Cooke broke off negotiations, District officials privately speculated that he never intended to build a stadium. Cooke had said he would pay for the stadium if the city provided $60 million for improved roads, lighting and sewers.

Cooke has told associates that environmental regulations and other hurdles would have pushed the start of the project back by a year or more. City officials emphasized that Cooke had known of the environmental regulations and possible neighborhood opposition from the moment he announced the deal.

Staff writers Peter Baker, Steve Bates and Rene Sanchez contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1992 The Washington Post Company

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