As Stadium Deadline Nears, Cooke Plays Fairfax Card

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 25, 1992; Page A01

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Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke, facing a March 2 deadline in his negotiations with the District over a new football stadium, is scouting sites in Fairfax County.

Cooke's inquiries about Fairfax real estate, made as recently as last week, came as the region was in the grip of Super Bowl fever. D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly flew to Minneapolis yesterday as Cooke's guest for tomorrow's showdown with the Buffalo Bills. The city and Cooke have been reported near agreement on building a new facility next to Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.

According to a half-dozen sources, Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chairman Thomas M. Davis III (R) had a meeting last week with a representative of Cooke's organization about possible stadium sites, including one near Fair Oaks Mall. Two of the sources identified the person as Stuart Haney, Cooke's in-house counsel, who has been involved in stadium negotiations.

Sources familiar with the discussions in Fairfax said they do not believe Cooke really intends to move the team to the suburbs, but may instead be seeking an additional bargaining tool or a backup position. The sources said Cooke may be eyeing the suburbs because he is worried about the web of environmental regulations he will have to satisfy to build a new stadium using parkland in the city.

Cooke, who has a reputation for unpredictable business dealings, toyed with moving the Redskins to the suburbs when he first began talking about a new stadium more than four years ago. He has periodically raised that threat since.

In a brief interview yesterday, Cooke played down his interest in the suburbs and said he remained confident that he can work out a deal with the city.

"We've always had a backup," he said by telephone from Minneapolis. "There's nothing new about that. Mayor Kelly knows it . . . . My first choice, as I've always said, is the District of Columbia and it still is."

Cooke said he discussed backup options with Kelly during yesterday's flight. Also riding on the plane as Cooke's guest was John T. "Til" Hazel Jr., Northern Virginia's preeminent developer.

Reports of Cooke's renewed interest in Northern Virginia caught District officials by surprise, but they said the last-minute maneuvering was not entirely unexpected.

"When people negotiate, they always keep their options open," said Artis Hampshire-Cowan, general counsel for the D.C. Armory Board. She said traffic congestion mars Fairfax's attractiveness as a stadium site.

"Location, location, location -- we're it," she said of the District.

Cooke and the city have said for more than six months that they are close to agreement on a $150 million, 78,600-seat arena to be built on Parking Lot 6 next to RFK.

In recent weeks, the two sides were reported to have settled on nearly every major point and an announcement of a deal has been expected at any time.

But the delays have left many frustrated, including U.S. Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr. Because federal land controlled by Interior would be needed for parking, Lujan complained this month that it was time for Cooke "to fish or cut bait" and then sent him a letter setting a March 2 deadline.

Davis declined yesterday to comment on whether he met with Cooke's representative.

"I'm sure he's looking for some backup," Davis said of Cooke. "He's not a dumb guy."

Davis recalled a resolution approved by Fairfax and other suburban governments in 1987 pledging to support efforts to keep the Redskins in the city. "We're not interested in getting into a war with the District," he said.

Still, Davis said that if Cooke pulls out of a deal with the city, he would love to have the Redskins move to Fairfax and would not let the resolution stand in the way. "We'd change that in a minute if we really thought we could get them out here," he said.

Haney declined to comment. Asked about last week's meeting with Davis, Cooke said, "Those have been going on for some time."

According to sources, Cooke's representatives have looked at several possible locations in the western part of the county, including a 114-acre parcel in Fair Oaks.

That tract, owned by Sequoia Building Corp., is along Interstate 66 west of Fairfax City between Fair Oaks Mall on the north and the new government center on the south.

Although there is no mass transit available there, the property is near both Interstate 66 and Route 50 and is considered a potential site for a Metrorail station if the system ever is extended out the I-66 corridor. In addition, considerable parking is available at the neighboring mall and government complex.

The land was rezoned by the Board of Supervisors in February 1988 for a mix of office, commercial and residential development, but Sequoia has not begun construction because of the collapse of the local real estate market.

Ray Smith, the head of Sequoia, declined to comment.

Hazel, who has done legal work for Cooke and helped him in his previous consideration of Northern Virginia sites, said before flying to Minneapolis that he could not comment in detail because of attorney-client privilege.

But he also played down the idea the Redskins would move to Virginia.

"We scoured Northern Virginia three, four, five years ago, and while we had a few sites potentially there, none of them were in that area," he said of Fair Oaks. "But I'm quick to say {Cooke} listens to lots of people and gets lots of advice and it's possible he's checking something out."

Staff writer Karlyn Barker contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1992 The Washington Post Company

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