Kelly Offers to Sweeten RFK Lease

By James Ragland
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 15, 1992; Page A01

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D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly has offered to negotiate with Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke a "more favorable" short-term lease at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in hopes of getting him to reconsider his decision not to build a new stadium in the District, aides close to Kelly said yesterday.

Kelly and her new point man in the stadium negotiations, Clifford L. Alexander Jr., met with Cooke for about 20 minutes in Cooke's sky box Sunday during halftime of the Redskins' win over the Atlanta Falcons, Alexander said.

"We're going to explore ways we might be able to improve the short-term lease arrangement," Alexander said. He said details have not been worked out.

The meeting marks the first face-to-face encounter the mayor has had with Cooke since he abruptly broke off negotiations in the spring to build a stadium in the District and subsequently announced plans to build a 78,600-seat facility in Virginia.

This summer, Kelly called Cooke a "billionaire bully" and vowed not to get into a bidding war to keep the defending Super Bowl champions in the District after Cooke struck a deal with Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder to build the proposed Jack Kent Cooke Stadium at Potomac Yard in Alexandria. {Related story on Page C1.}

But since then, Wilder's deal with Cooke has met a wall of opposition -- ranging from neighboring residents with environmental worries to state legislators concerned about the package of financial incentives offered by the governor.

Alexandria city officials are now discussing offering favorable zoning for a major commercial and residential development at Potomac Yard in exchange for killing the stadium plan.

Kelly, who withdrew a more favorable short-term lease offer in April after Cooke broke off negotiations and refused to sign a long-term lease, apparently is willing to make that concession now to lure Cooke back to the negotiating table.

A more generous lease "isn't a condition precedent to negotiations on all other matters," Alexander said, "but I'm hopeful that will come to pass."

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

The Redskins played there last year under an interim game-by-game arrangement that reduced the team's rent from 12 percent to 10 percent of gross ticket receipts and for the first time gave Cooke 25 percent of the parking and advertising revenue and 20.5 percent of concession proceeds.

Cooke wanted the same RFK leasing terms as last year. But the District, upset with Cooke's decision to end negotiations, refused to give him the same terms -- unless he agreed to lease the D.C.-owned RFK stadium for 10 years or signed a deal on a new stadium.

The difference between the old and new leases means about $1 million a year extra for Cooke -- "give or take $300,000," a Kelly aide said -- in ticket, parking, concession stand and advertising revenue.

Kelly and Alexander, who were sitting in the D.C. Armory Board sky box at Sunday's game, requested the meeting with Cooke, and Cooke invited them to his box, Alexander said.

"I consider it to be a quite positive result," Alexander said. "We talked the entire halftime," which he said lasted about 20 minutes.

Alexander would not discuss details of their talk. But a source close to the mayor said Cooke made it clear that he was still upset about the short-term lease he has with the city and wanted a better deal without any strings attached.

"He made it clear that it's not connected," the Kelly aide said. "But the fact is, he brought it up. So that means he's at least willing to talk."

Cooke did not return a phone call to his office.

Alexander said a timetable has not been set to work out details of the lease.

Asked why the mayor would agree to improve the short-term lease, Kelly aides said it's a relatively inexpensive olive branch.

"It's a good opening gesture," said an aide close to the negotiations, adding that Cooke "was upset about having the worst stadium lease deal in the league of all 26 teams," and the mayor sympathized with that.

© Copyright 1992 The Washington Post Company

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