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Cooke, D.C. Reopen Talks on Building New Stadium

By James Ragland
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 26, 1992; Page A01

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Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke formally renewed negotiations with the District yesterday to build a new stadium in the nation's capital, four months after vowing to move his team to Alexandria.

Cooke met for more than an hour in his Northwest Washington home with Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly's chief stadium negotiator, Clifford L. Alexander Jr., and D.C. Council Chairman John A. Wilson (D), whom Cooke invited to the meeting.

"We had a very constructive meeting, and a great deal of progress was made," Alexander said. "Jack Kent Cooke expressed his feeling that significant progress was made and his desire to be here in the District."

Cooke described the talks as "favorable" but, like Alexander, declined to discuss details. "Favorable meeting. And we see progress. And that's it," he said.

A high-ranking administration source said a deal could be reached as early as next month, although no deadline had been set. Neither Cooke nor Alexander would say when they hope to close a deal, but Alexander said, "We all have the same sense of urgency to accomplish this."

Cooke refused to say whether he had ruled out the possibility of building in Virginia or Maryland, but said emphatically that he is not interested in a proposal advanced by D.C. Council member Harold Brazil (D-Ward 6) to renovate Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.

Wilson was unavailable for comment after the meeting. His press secretary, Lea Adams, said he was out of town for Thanksgiving.

Although Kelly, Alexander and Wilson have all met with Cooke at one time or another in recent weeks, Alexander said yesterday's meeting marked a turning point because they began delving into "very significant details."

"We've talked about substantive issues. We're getting into very significant details now, and that's good," Alexander said. He said the new level of talks demonstrates that "our hopefulness {of a new stadium in the District} is well-founded."

Cooke, who began negotiating with the city five years ago to build a proposed 78,600-seat stadium near RFK, abruptly canceled talks with the District in April, citing "reasons completely beyond our control" in a letter from his attorney.

In July, he announced a pact with Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder to build a new stadium at Potomac Yard in Alexandria.

Opposition from Northern Virginia legislators and residents in Alexandria forced Cooke and Wilder to call off the stadium deal in October.

Kelly, who had responded to Cooke's departure from the bargaining table by refusing to give him a more profitable short-term lease at RFK, reacted angrily to the Virginia pact, calling Cooke a "billionaire bully" and promising not to get into a "bidding war" to keep the football team in the District.

But during the last three months, both Kelly and Cooke have taken some political heat for the failed negotiations. Wilson and others questioned the mayor's strategy. And several suburban officials sent Cooke a letter last month saying the team should stay in the District.

Since neither Alexander nor Cooke would discuss details of their talks, it remains unclear how the parties will address the issue of parking space for the proposed stadium.

The U.S. Department of Interior has made other arrangements for the long-term use of federal land earlier targeted for parking. Interior Department spokesman Steve Goldstein -- who said recently that the stadium deal is "still doable, but at a higher cost" -- was out of town yesterday. Another spokesman, Bob Walker, said, "We have proceeded pretty far down the pike with these other projects, so it really depends on what they're going to do and when they're going to do it."

One administration official said the city and Cooke are discussing the possibility of building a new stadium beside RFK and later demolishing RFK -- more than likely after the city has played host to its share of the 1994 World Cup soccer games -- to create more parking space.

Under the previous deal the city negotiated, Cooke was expected to pay about $150 million for the new stadium. Kelly also had demanded that 51 percent of the jobs at the stadium go to D.C. residents and that 35 percent of the stadium construction contracts go to minority businesses in the District.

The District agreed to spend $60 million for infrastructure improvements, such as parking and landscaping, and offered Cooke escalating annual tax waivers starting at $3.5 million the first year.

In addition, the District offered $1.7 million in sales tax credits to Cooke "to pay toward the District's annual $6 million debt service payment" for the infrastructure improvements, and a "guaranteed stadium rental payment of $4.3 million" to pay off the balance.

Brazil, whose ward includes RFK and the previously proposed stadium site, said, "I'm pleased that some level of negotiations has started again. But I am disappointed that they're not at least considering the proposal" to renovate RFK.

Renovation, he said, could be done at a lower cost and would eliminate environmental and political issues involved in using federal land. "But whichever way," he said, "I would work to keep the Redskins here."

© Copyright 1992 The Washington Post Company

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