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Delays Push Back Stadium's Chances for 1995 Opening

By Serge F. Kovaleski
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 28, 1993; Page C01

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Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke's hopes of building a new home for the team by the 1995 football season have been sacked by delays in completing an environmental study and other governmental hurdles, according to several people close to the project.

A frustrated Cooke is now aiming to have the proposed stadium ready for the 1996 season, the officials said. They explained that groundbreaking at the site just north of the team's current home at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium would commence next spring and that construction would take about two years.

"Bar a miracle, the '95 season is out. There's no way," said one official involved in the $206 million project who spoke on the condition of anonymity. District and Cooke representatives discussed the delay during a meeting last week.

The Redskins, whose lease at RFK runs through the 1994 football season with an option for 1995, would continue to play at the 56,880-seat stadium during the additional year, officials said.

George W. Brown, assistant city administrator for economic development, said in a statement late yesterday that the city is doing what it can to get the stadium ready in time for the 1995 season.

Cooke declined to comment yesterday on the delays.

Construction of the proposed 78,600-seat complex is contingent upon the project receiving the necessary approvals from Congress, as well as the D.C. Council, the National Capital Planning Commission and the Commission of Fine Arts.

Cooke had hoped to break ground on the stadium no later than this month, but delays in finishing an environmental impact statement, which was released Friday, and unexpected pockets of opposition in Congress have tied up the process.

A hearing on the project before the House Natural Resources subcommittee on national parks, forests and public lands is scheduled for Nov. 5. But congressional officials said it is unlikely both Houses will be able to act on the project before January. The stadium needs congressional approval because it would sit on federal land.

Cooke, who turned 81 years old Monday, is irked by the holdups. He is bothered that the District has not done more lobbying on Capitol Hill on behalf of the proposed stadium, despite a recent pledge to start a full press with the help of business groups and organized labor.

Additionally, negotiations between the District and Cooke over a lease are moving at a snail's pace, and the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund is considering a lawsuit alleging the environmental impact statement is inadequate.

District officials said privately that, if the project continues to run up against obstacles, Cooke may look again outside the city to build.

Although Cooke's efforts to erect a stadium in Alexandria were thwarted a year ago by angry residents and city officials, other jurisdictions, such as Loudoun County, are interested in having it there.

When Cooke broke off talks with the District in April 1992, he said he was not getting enough cooperation from city officials and was concerned about the time it would take to get federal approvals.

The federal government leases to the District the land on which RFK sits, including the parking lot where the new stadium would be built.

Under legislation introduced in the House by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and in the Senate by Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), the lease would be extended for 99 years, allowing the District to sublease the land to Cooke.

Rep. Bruce F. Vento (D-Minn.), chairman of the subcommittee conducting next week's hearing, has challenged the use of federal land for commercial enterprises such as the proposed stadium. He has also questioned whether putting a new, larger stadium next to RFK would threaten the financial viability of the older, District-owned complex.

On the Senate side, Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (D-Colo.) has introduced legislation that would require Cooke to change the name of the Redskins before a stadium deal is approved. The name has drawn protests from American Indian leaders, including Campbell.

Opponents of the proposed stadium applauded the yearlong stadium delay yesterday. "We will ask the Congress and the city fathers to look at renovating RFK in lieu of building a new stadium," said Robert Boone, executive director of the Anacostia Watershed Society, a group dedicated to enhancing the nearby Anacostia River.

The stadium project is also headed for an eventual showdown in the D.C. Council, where several members favor renovating RFK rather than constructing a new stadium.

Council member Bill Lightfoot (I-At Large), chairman of the committee that oversees the Armory Board, said he is concerned because "the city is not in a position to support two stadiums, and the current stadium deal is not financially beneficial to the District."

Under the tentative agreement, Cooke gets all parking revenue from events at his stadium and 90 percent of the parking revenue from events held at RFK and the D.C. Armory. He would also get money from use of the lots for the proposed National Children's Island and Metro commuters.

© Copyright 1993 The Washington Post Company

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