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Cooke Says D.C. Talks Are Over

By Serge F. Kovaleski and Dan Beyers
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, December 11, 1993; Page A01

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In the strongest declaration of his stadium plans yet, Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke told the Kelly administration yesterday that he has no intention of resuming talks with the District to build a new football complex in the city.

Senior aides to Cooke said in separate letters to George W. Brown, the assistant city administrator for economic development, that he is abandoning a non-binding agreement he signed with the District in February to build a new sports complex next to Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Northeast Washington.

"We regret that the agreement so enthusiastically penned last winter will not, for many reasons, be consummated," wrote Cooke's project manager, Walter E. Lynch. "Despite his almost unprecedented offer to build the stadium with his own money, he has seen year after year pass away without a shovel going into the ground."

Since Cooke announced on Tuesday that he had chosen a site near Laurel Race Course in suburban Maryland as the future home of the Redskins, District officials have made several attempts to persuade him to keep the team in the city. Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly, however, has not made any attempts to communicate with Cooke; she returned neither of the telephone calls he placed to her Tuesday, Cooke said.

Cooke's attorney, Stuart A. Haney, sent a letter to Brown late yesterday, saying, "I wish to reaffirm that there is no useful purpose to be served by our continuing to discuss the placing of the stadium in the District of Columbia."

"Alas, it is not to be," he wrote.

Cooke's declarations came as Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who has strongly opposed the Laurel proposal, said that if the 81-year-old team owner wants to move the Redskins to the state, he should go to Baltimore. Schaefer has said that the move to Laurel would dampen Baltimore's chances of getting a professional football team.

The governor said at a State House news conference that he spoke with Kelly by telephone yesterday and was assured that stadium negotiations between the District and Cooke were continuing.

Only if those negotiations end, Schaefer said, would he entertain suggestions that the Redskins move to Maryland.

"If Sharon Pratt Kelly says there's no opportunity {in the District}, I would then try to persuade Mr. Cooke to come to Baltimore," Schaefer said.

A source close to the Laurel talks said Cooke is unwilling to move the Redskins to Baltimore. He wants to be in Laurel to take advantage of both the Washington and Baltimore markets; the stadium would be located about halfway between the two cities.

District officials have promised Cooke that they would swiftly resolve all outstanding issues from their past negotiations so that both sides could sign a lease within the next 30 days.

Yesterday, Brown met with federal officials to determine how much funding designated for a highway project near RFK could be used to improve roads and access around a new stadium.

That issue has been one of the stumbling blocks in lease negotiations between Cooke and the District. Federal highway officials said a decision on the funding would be made next week.

On another sticking point, the Kelly administration is exploring the possibility of having the D.C. Armory Board offer to pay for the potential $8 million cost of removing lead from the site just north of RFK. The board would then seek repayment from the Army Corps of Engineers, which is believed to have placed the lead in the ground during dredging of the nearby Anacostia River.

"We are moving forward to be ready when he comes back," Brown said yesterday.

Since Cooke signed an agreement with the District in February, he has grown increasingly frustrated by delays in the project, which would be built on federal land and would need the approval of at least a half a dozen federal agencies.

Members of Congress, who ultimately would need to approve the proposal, have challenged the use of federal land for private enterprise, as well as the Redskins' name, which some Indian groups find offensive.

On Thursday, Cooke paid $2.1 million for a 25-acre tract east of the race course that was owned by the Resolution Trust Corp. Cooke would use some of that land for stadium parking.

On Dec. 1, a day after NFL owners awarded an expansion team to Jacksonville rather than Baltimore, Cooke approached the RTC about buying the parcel, which once had been in the portfolio of United Savings Bank, a failed Virginia savings and loan, according to Anne Freeman, an RTC spokeswoman.

The RTC is a federal agency created in the wake of the nation's savings and loan crisis to sell off the assets of failed financial institutions and return the proceeds to the government, which had insured depositors.

Freeman said the corporation expects to conclude its sale Monday. "This is a cash deal," Freeman said. "We're very pleased. We feel it is a good return for the taxpayers."

Cooke is buying the property at RTC's list price, she said. The RTC took control of the property, then valued at $2.7 million, in October 1992. The property at 3500 Fort Meade Rd. is assessed for tax purposes at $2.3 million, according to state tax records.

The parcel is between the racetrack and Route 198; it belonged to a farmer who has since died. A development company, H&M Crofton Station Limited Partnership, purchased the property in 1987 and planned to build an office complex, but the project apparently foundered in the recent real estate recession.

Cooke is still negotiating with track owner Joe DeFrancis to buy another piece of land to the northeast of the race course. People familiar with the talks said that Cooke would buy at least 20 acres of land from DeFrancis and lease the remainder from the race course.

Ray Smallwood, the leader of an Anne Arundel coalition of civic associations in the track's vicinity, said Cooke's representatives have contacted him to set up community meetings to discuss the project. He said residents are divided on the stadium and want to see how Cooke proposes to ease the stadium's effect.

"We want to see what they are going to do for the community," Smallwood said.

Cooke's representatives, who have been blazing trails around Laurel this week trying to build support for the stadium, met yesterday with Anne Arundel County Council Chairman David G. Boschert (D-Crownsville), whose district includes the race course area.

Del. John S. Morgan (R-Howard-Prince George's), who represents the Laurel area, said yesterday that he is organizing a Thursday hearing at Laurel High School.

Morgan said he opposes the project and is working with Schaefer's office to have a representative present who can detail potential traffic and environmental problems.

Morgan criticized local officials who have endorsed the new stadium project for not first consulting with residents. "I'm filling a vacuum," he said. "There doesn't seem to be any public officials in the Laurel area who are willing to lead the charge against it."

Morgan said the traffic problems will be far more extensive than those caused by football games. He noted that some discussions are apparently underway about possibly bringing the Washington Bullets basketball team and the Washington Capitals hockey team to a new arena at the site.

"They are going to want to have rock concerts, tractor pulls and the Billy Graham crusade there so they can milk it for what they can," Morgan said.

National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, a longtime Redskins season ticket holder, said he has no problem with Cooke moving his team to Laurel if that's what it takes to have an improved stadium for the team.

"I think it's a positive thing for the Redskins and for their fans," he said. "RFK Stadium is far from a state-of-the-art stadium; thousands of people have to stand up just to see the field."

"When I go to stadiums like Joe Robbie {near Miami} and Arrowhead {in Kansas City, Mo.} and other state-of-the-art facilities, the fans really love those stadiums compared to the RFK Stadium generation," Tagliabue said. "The sight lines are just so much better for the fans; the comfort level is so much better."

Staff writers Richard Tapscott, Vinnie Perrone and Leonard Shapiro contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1993 The Washington Post Company

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