Cooke's Quest Ends in P.G. as Curry Signs Stadium Deal

By Terry M. Neal and Robert E. Pierre
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, December 4, 1995; Page A01

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After months of contentious negotiations, Maryland and Prince George's County leaders reached an agreement yesterday with Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke that cleared the way for a new 78,600-seat stadium in Landover, where the team could begin play as early as 1997.

The pact was solidified with the signature of Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry, allowing Cooke to build a $160 million stadium near the Capital Beltway on a site known as the Wilson Farm, government sources said yesterday. Curry, who repeatedly has questioned whether the stadium would truly benefit the county, had been the remaining impediment to Cooke's plan.

Cooke and Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening also approved the agreement. The state and county bought the property this year, and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission holds the title. The land will be sold to Cooke for $4.1 million.

"I'm very happy with the deal, and I'm glad he {Curry} signed it," said Cooke, reached at home after last night's Redskins game. "I wish he would've signed it weeks or months ago when he should have, but I'm happy."

Under the terms of the agreement, Curry, Cooke, Glendening and their representatives were forbidden to discuss details until a news conference scheduled for today.

Coupled with last month's announcement that the Cleveland Browns will move to Baltimore next season, the Redskins agreement will mean that Maryland, which has had no National Football League team since the Baltimore Colts departed in 1984, soon will have two. It also ends Cooke's seven-year search for a new home to replace the NFL's smallest venue, Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in the District, where the team has played since Oct. 1, 1961. Since 1988, public opposition has prevented the 83-year-old Cooke from building in the District, Alexandria and Anne Arundel County.

Besides paying to build the stadium, Cooke will devote $4.6 million to help the county build a community recreation center and assist a charitable foundation. The state will contribute $78 million to build access roads, parking lots and other facilities around the stadium. The county will donate 100 acres adjacent to the stadium site, valued at about $2 million, for the recreation center.

"I think it's a wonderful thing," said Prince George's County Council member Marvin F. Wilson (D-5th District), who represents residential areas near the Wilson Farm. "If this deal happens, I think even the naysayers should support {Curry} because he's done something for Prince George's County that no one else has been able to do."

A few obstacles remain. A coalition of civic groups and individuals who live near the Wilson Farm have filed a lawsuit seeking to reverse the County Council decision to change the zoning for the site. No court date has been set.

In addition, the council must hold an evidentiary hearing, probably later this month, in which Redskins officials will need to answer questions under oath. The council then will vote on whether to approve the site plan.

Glendening has not said how he hopes to fund the state's contribution to the Redskins' stadium project, but he likely will need budget support from the Maryland General Assembly, which convenes next month.

Walter H. Maloney (D-1st District), one of two Prince George's County Council members who opposed Cooke's plan, said yesterday: "This is just round one. I think this is still a long way off."

The agreement comes at a time when the county government is reeling financially and officials are desperately searching for good news on the economic development front. Earlier this year, county leaders closed a $108 million budget shortfall by slashing spending, laying off workers and raising taxes.

The stadium could generate about $5 million in annual tax revenue for the county, according to Cooke's economic forecasts. And the construction of the stadium would bring hundreds of jobs. Those things would help but wouldn't come close to solving the county's woes. Nevertheless, many residents see the stadium as a potential boon to Prince George's.

"If it's done, I think it will be great," said Betty Buck, past president of the Prince George's County Chamber of Commerce and a political ally of Curry's. Buck, who owns a beer distributing company, said the stadium should spawn new businesses for the county and boost income for existing businesses such as her own.

At times, however, it has looked as if the deal would fail.

Negotiations had been stalled or sputtering since October, as Cooke, Curry and Glendening argued over, among other things, who would pay the $70 million-plus in public costs associated with the stadium. Glendening had said that the state would pay $50 million for road improvements around the site but not on it. Curry refused to let the county pick up the rest of the tab. And Cooke also refused to pay it.

Glendening later agreed to have the state cover the full amount, and state officials have spent the last few weeks trying to figure out how to finance the deal.

There are benefits and drawbacks in the arrangement for each of the three major parties, all of whom had to compromise on an issue important to them.

Glendening, the former county executive in Prince George's, appeased his Southern Maryland constituents who wondered how he could have helped broker a deal for the state to build a $200 million stadium in Camden Yards to lure the Cleveland Browns while refusing to pick up all the costs for the Redskins to move to Landover. At the same time, Glendening has been criticized by some lawmakers in Annapolis who contend that the state is putting up too much and the county too little.

Curry's success in getting the stadium without committing county tax dollars and in getting Cooke to contribute millions of dollars for the sports complex and charities is likely to be popular with his constituents. But his refusal to pledge substantial county money toward the project may hurt him in Annapolis in January, when he will have to ask legislators for state aid in other areas.

Cooke gets to build a stadium that likely will please fans as well as put millions of extra dollars in his pockets. At the same time, he will have to contribute more money than he originally wanted to toward a community sports complex and other items.

But, Cooke said, referring to last week's slaying of a Suitland High School student, "that's why Mrs. Cooke and I are putting up {the extra funds}, to help stop all this horrendous murder of decent, innocent young people. It's a lot of money, but it's for the right cause."

© Copyright 1995 The Washington Post Company

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