Imagine, if you will, J. Willard Marriott Jr. approaching Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer with the following proposition: The Marriott Corp. needs a bigger headquarters and training complex to replace the company's Bethesda offices. Build a new headquarters complex or risk losing Marriott, Kramer is advised in this hypothetical scenario.

Imagine further that Marriott then initiates a bidding war among local jurisdictions by dangling the prospect of thousands of new jobs and millions of dollars in taxes in exchange for a headquarters facility paid for by taxpayers.

Or suppose that Joe L. Allbritton, chairman of Riggs National Corp., summoned D.C. Mayor Marion Barry and demanded that the city pick up the tab for a new operations center. Let's suppose that, in this hypothetical meeting, Allbritton informs Barry that Riggs, the holding company for Washington's largest bank, needs to improve profits by reducing operating costs. If Riggs is to retain a substantial number of jobs in the city, it must eliminate high costs associated with leasing space in its current operations center, Barry is advised.

Allbritton's ultimatum to Barry in this bit of fantasy: Build a new operations center to house Riggs' data processing and other backroom activities or Riggs will seek a deal in the suburbs.

Barry is left not only to ponder the loss of several hundred jobs but a veiled threat that Allbritton plans to merge Riggs with a Maryland or Virginia institution and establish a new bank company with headquarters outside the District.

State and local governments regularly provide tax breaks, industrial revenue bonds, land writedowns and other inducements to retain or attract businesses considered vital to their respective economies. Such inducements are mainstays of economic development programs. It's unlikely, however, that any responsible local official would yield to the kind of pressure tactics described in these hypothetical scenarios. In fact, it's unlikely that any responsible chief executive would use such strong-armed tactics in negotiations with public officials or even ask for so much from taxpayers without offering anything in return.

Yet that's precisely what Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke is doing in demanding that the District build a 75,000-seat stadium for his team. Cooke says the Redskins can't realize a profit in 55,000-seat RFK Stadium, where the team currently plays. He wants a domed stadium with skyboxes -- ritzy playpens for wealthy fans -- that will enable him to make handsome profits, without having to pay a dime more than the favorable lease he can be expected to demand.

Cooke has given the District until June 30 to come up with a proposal, and failing that, he says, it will become necessary to seek a deal with one of the surrounding counties. Supposedly, the overture to suburban jurisdictions would be made only after Cooke has "exhausted every means of keeping the stadium in D.C."

The issue at hand is not so much where the Redskins will play after 1990, when the current lease at RFK expires. Rather, it's what a local government's response should be when the head of a privately held, for-profit enterprise demands that taxpayers provide what amounts to corporate welfare for his company.

Their broad appeal as entertainment notwithstanding, professional football teams are businesses, plain and simple. Only when that fact is put in proper perspective by Mayor Barry and other local elected officials can the stadium issue be addressed rationally. Then and only then will public officials be in a position to respond to Cooke as they would any other business owner.

Imagine taxpayers' reaction if the owners of Woodward & Lothrop Inc. demanded funds from the District to build a downtown store to strengthen the company's competitive position in a burgeoning retail market.

Cooke's flim-flam seems to be working, nevertheless. Already Barry is shelling out taxpayers' money to pay for a consultant's study on stadium options while asserting that "We're going to keep {the Redskins}." What will the city get in return? Cooke and most Redskins pay taxes in Virginia, where they live. The Redskins practice and training facilities are in Virginia. Visiting NFL teams stay at Virginia hotels. What economic benefit will the District gain if it builds a new stadium?

Officials in other jurisdictions have stated their opposition to spending taxpayers' money for a stadium of limited economic benefit. Yet the board of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, in an incredible display of gullibility, has voted for a study on the feasibility of a stadium bond issue and creation of a regional authority for a national coliseum, whatever that is.

Barry and COG officials apparently still don't understand the economic implications of Cooke's stadium scheme. Cooke has yet to demonstrate that he is willing to enter into a meaningful public-private partnership, that he is prepared to take risks as other area businessmen have, or that he is aware of the many demands on local budgets.

A group of developers have said, in effect, that they are prepared to take risks by building a domed stadium for the Redskins as part of a $770 million complex near Dulles International Airport. The offer is a test of Cooke's corporate responsibility. Now it's his choice to pass it or fail.