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Cooke, D.C. Reach Agreement on New Stadium

By Martin Weil and Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, December 8, 1992; Page A01

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Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke and District officials reached an agreement yesterday on building a 78,600-seat stadium for the team in the city.

Under the surprise agreement outlined last night, Cooke would build, pay for and own what he described as a "state-of-the-art" stadium, to be named for him, adjacent to Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.

Demolition of RFK had been discussed as a way to provide more parking, a move that might have foreclosed any chances of the District luring a baseball team here. Cooke said his stadium would be suitable for football only.

The agreement guarantees the city $4.6 million a year in revenue for 30 years. The money would go to redeem $46 million in bonds issued by the city to pay for the lighter roads and sewer system needed for the new stadium.

The announcement appears to end more than five years of bargaining. Last summer, after negotiations had broken down, Cooke announced plans to move the football team from the District to a stadium to be built in Alexandria.

Formal terms will be contained in a memorandum of understanding "to be signed shortly" and will be made public then, the statement issued last night said. Officials said that signing could come in two weeks.

Before construction can begin, however, the project will have to be approved by several federal agencies, including the Interior Department and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Despite that, Cooke, 80, said he still hopes to have his team play in the new stadium during the 1994 season.

A major question that was not addressed last night was the amount of parking that would be available for the new stadium. Cooke had maintained during previous talks that he needed 18,000 parking spaces, and the city had agreed to make nearby federal parkland available. That land was not included in last night's agreement.

Cooke's outline and statements by District officials suggested last night that the city's negotiators had gotten most of what they had sought in earlier discussions.

In addition to preserving RFK Stadium, the agreement includes goals for hiring minority contractors and city residents and a guaranteed income from the facility.

The agreement also appears to represent a degree of vindication for Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly, who critics said let the team slip from her fingers this year when Cooke and Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder announced a deal to move the Redskins to Potomac Yard in Alexandria.

At the time, relations between Cooke and Kelly deteriorated sharply, and she described him as a "billionaire bully."

Kelly, who was out of town last night celebrating her first wedding anniversary, expressed satisfaction over the agreement in a conference call that included her chief stadium negotiator, Clifford Alexander.

"I thank you, Cliff, for a great topic for an anniversary present," she said. "I've always thought the team should be in the District of Columbia and that the stadium would remain in the District of Columbia."

"I've always wanted to be in the District," Cooke said in an interview last night. "It's the Washington Redskins."

The meeting at which agreement was reached last night began as a preliminary session to give direction to the final negotiations involving Cooke, Alexander, D.C. Council Chairman John A. Wilson (D) and D.C. Corporation Counsel John Payton.

"We knew we were getting close to a deal, but we didn't think it would be closed today," Alexander said. "We were pleasantly surprised."

"Both sides," according to Payton, "decided this was the deal that should happen, and when you get that kind of momentum, you get a deal."

"I never really gave up on it," said Wilson, who left the meeting early to attend a private dinner honoring President-elect Clinton. But he conceded that "there were days when I didn't think it would ever come to fruition."

The session ended a few minutes before 10 p.m. with a congratulatory telephone call between Cooke and the mayor.

A longtime opponent of plans to build a stadium, Herb Harris Jr., president of the Kingman Park Citizens Association, said his group is preparing "to go on the offensive."

He said questions about the impact of the new stadium on the environment and quality of life in the Kingman Park neighborhood of Northeast Washington remain to be addressed, while "our elected officials have basically lain down and decided to give Jack Kent Cooke what he wants . . . to sacrifice the District of Columbia for the sake of a good ball team."

Cooke has been seeking to build a new stadium in the area since 1987, when he told the city he wanted a larger facility for his team. The 55,000-seat RFK Stadium is among the National Football League's smallest stadiums, and it lacks lucrative skyboxes featured in the league's newer stadiums.

As outlined in a three-page statement distributed by the Redskins owner, Cooke and the team pledged to use their "best efforts" to provide for 35 percent minority participation in construction and operation of the new stadium, with 51 percent of the jobs to be held by city residents.

The financial terms would give the District $4.6 million in tax-based revenue in each of the first 30 years of stadium operation. If taxes fail to reach $4.6 million the team and the stadium guarantee to make up the difference.

The team and the stadium would get all revenue from concession and parking lot operations.

After 30 years, the Redskins would cede the stadium to the city and the team would begin paying rent on a sliding scale starting at $2 million.

In addition, after the 30-year term the team would continue paying taxes that would no longer be subject to the $4.6 million limit.

The facility will be designed purely for football, and Cooke said he will attempt to lure the annual Army-Navy football game and the University of Maryland football program.

Both Cooke and Alexander said that although several steps remain to get approval from the federal government, they anticipate no problems getting the necessary permits.

"We have . . . problems in connection with {the Environmental Protection Agency}, but I don't think that building this stadium will damage the atmosphere, and we can prove that to the EPA," Cooke said.

No dollar figure was placed on the entire project last night, but earlier reports put the bill at an estimated $206 million -- $160 million for the stadium itself, the rest for infrastructure improvements.

Staff writers Karlyn Barker, James Ragland and Roxanne Roberts contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1992 The Washington Post Company

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