Va. Seeks Deal on Stadium After D.C. Talks Collapse

By Karlyn Barker and Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, April 4, 1992; Page B01

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Virginia officials and developers came off the sidelines yesterday and began to eagerly woo the Washington Redskins after the sudden collapse of negotiations between the District and Jack Kent Cooke over a new football stadium.

While some building specialists said it would cost millions of dollars and take a lot of time to develop a Northern Virginia site suitable for a stadium, others embraced the idea, noting that Fairfax County Board Chairman Thomas M. Davis III and the new pro-growth Board of Supervisors probably could rush the project through regulatory obstacles.

"Could they put a shovel in the ground tomorrow? Hell no," said Roger Snyder, chief executive officer of the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association. "But could it be {done} in half the time? . . . Absolutely. Believe me, they would fast-track that like there's no tomorrow."

In Richmond, Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder said he would do "whatever is reasonable" to try to lure the Redskins to his state. A frequent guest in Cooke's box at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, Wilder said he and Cooke are "friends," but he declined to say whether he has talked to Cooke about a possible move.

But J. Hamilton Lambert, a consultant and former Fairfax County executive, wondered whether a move from Washington to Virginia would make sense. "It would still be a matter of finding the site and how long it would take to develop it, that's the key question," he said.

A stadium in Northern Virginia would require the widening of highways and perhaps the extension of Metro service. The District, which commissioned a study of the 114-acre tract near Fair Oaks that Cooke is talking to Davis about, concluded that the stadium would require more than $200 million worth of construction on at least eight highways.

The stadium's location became an open issue again Thursday after Cooke told Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr. that he could not meet Lujan's deadline yesterday for concluding negotiations on a proposal to build the facility next to RFK Stadium, where the Redskins now play.

Lujan set the deadline in exasperation over the protracted talks, which have dragged on for nearly five years, tying up other projects slated for federal park land Cooke wanted to use for stadium parking.

The interior secretary approved the start yesterday of $1.5 million in improvements at Langston Golf Course, including immediate renovation of a clubhouse that would have been removed to make room for stadium parking.

An aide to Lujan said Interior did not want to delay the projects any longer. The aide also defended Lujan's refusal to waive environmental rules so Cooke could start construction of the $150 million, 78,600-seat stadium months ahead of the standard approval schedule.

"He's not commissioner of the NFL, he's secretary of the interior," said Lujan aide Steve Goldstein.

Cooke's concern that federal environmental regulations would impede his ability to finish the stadium in time to play host to the World Cup soccer final in July 1994 is said to have been behind his abrupt decision Thursday to indefinitely suspend his talks with D.C. officials.

Neither Cooke nor Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly would comment yesterday on the apparent breakdown in stadium negotiations. But dejected D.C. officials, who had expected to announce a deal this week, said they still have hope that the negotiations with Cooke will resume.

The loss of access to some federal land would not preclude the use of some of the space for parking if Cooke put a stadium next to RFK. Interior and environmentalists say the solution is to build garages, something the District considered until Cooke rejected the idea as too costly to him and too inconvenient for his customers.

Cooke has been warned for years that the federal environmental approval process could take months. Last fall, his representatives met with Interior officials to explore ways of cutting the approval time, which often can take up to 16 months.

The agency promised to assign someone to the project full-time and to shorten the process to about eight months. Cooke's organization said it wanted to break ground within three months of announcing a stadium deal and needed to have construction underway by April 1 of this year to complete the stadium in time for the World Cup competition.

Cooke has said it will take 20 to 22 months to build the stadium.

There is little the District can do to speed the stadium project through a federal approval process, which is governed by the National Environmental Policy Act. Only Congress could grant waivers to the law.

Lujan's office re-emphasized yesterday that Cooke did not ask the Interior secretary to extend the deadline, something Lujan was prepared to do if asked. But the two men have long been at odds, according to sources, and the stadium negotiations have further soured the relationship.

Sources said that while Lujan was in Congress several years ago, he tried to get Cooke to donate Redskins tickets for an auction to raise money for a scholarship fund. Cooke told Lujan to use his own season tickets.

Lujan also has been miffed because Cooke, until Thursday, had never talked to him about the project and had been making negative comments about Lujan that had gotten back to the Interior secretary, sources said.

Despite that history, Lujan had approved the idea of redesigning Langston Golf Course to make room for stadium parking and, last month, he extended the deadline for concluding negotiations by 30 days to give Kelly and Cooke more time to work out an agreement.

"One would hope that out of deference to the community and the strong support that exists for the Redskins, {Cooke} would not purposely keep a stadium out of the District just to spite an Interior secretary," said Goldstein, Lujan's spokesman.

Staff writer Donald P. Baker contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1992 The Washington Post Company

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