D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, calling the Washington Redskins "one of the most unifying forces in the region," said yesterday that he wants to build a new football stadium in the city and is "prepared to support some subsidy" to do so.
"I think it's fair to say that the government has a responsibility to try to keep as many private enterprises in the city as it can," the mayor said. "The majority of stadiums where National Football League teams play are publicly owned facilities."
In an interview with The Washington Post, Barry said he agrees with Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke that Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, which seats 55,000, is too small. Cooke has expressed his desire for a 75,000-seat stadium to replace RFK and has hinted that he will move the team to the suburbs if his demands are not met.
"Mr. Cooke's basic view is that he's not going to pay for the stadium, that it's not his responsibility to pay for a stadium," Barry said. "He's a business person who wants the Redskins to stay in Washington itself, and, if possible, we have to work out a way to get it done."
Barry said that if it is not feasible to build a new stadium, RFK could be expanded by as many as 10,000 seats, including luxury skyboxes, a major source of income for most NFL teams. "It's not the kind of situation where, come hell or high water, regardless of what the costs to the taxpayer are, I'm going to advocate building a stadium," he said.
Cooke could not be reached for comment. However, he has said that he would not be receptive to playing in a renovated RFK, which he considers a baseball facility.
For the first time, Barry suggested financing possibilities for a new stadium, which he said would cost in the range of $100 million. Among them are revenue bonds, which would use the income from the stadium to pay off interest and principal; a "one-time" contribution from the federal government, and contributions from suburban governments, which, Barry said, also benefit from the Redskins.
He said a "regional cooperative venture" could be formed to help finance a stadium.
He said he would meet with Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer and Fairfax County Board Chairman John F. Herrity to "see what their constituencies might say."
It was reported this week that Barry had suggested to Cooke that the Langston golf course on the Anacostia River was a potential site for a new stadium, a possibility that Barry declined to address.
"It's a red herring debate . . . because we haven't gotten to hiring consultants yet," Barry said. "The site becomes the tail wagging the dog. Let the dog be the feasibility of financing the stadium."
Cooke said this week that he would prefer a stadium with a retractable dome to a domed facility. Barry said the only reason for a covered stadium would be to attract events such as the Super Bowl.
According to Barry, he and Cooke agreed that plans should be completed before the end of this "I think it's fair
to say that the government has a responsibility to try to keep as many private enterprises in the city as it can."
-- Mayor Marion Barry
football season so they would not conflict with a planned $13 million renovation of RFK aimed at attracting a major league baseball team.
The stadium-armory complex operates in the black. Under the current lease, which expires in 1990, the Redskins pay 10 percent of their gross revenue and receive no income from parking and concessions. Barry said the Armory Board collected $2.6 million from the Redskins last season, about half the operating budget of RFK.
Building a new stadium would be a costly enterprise, however, and, if the experience of other cities serves as a guide, it would probably require a substantial public subsidy.
Barry, who said that "in a perfect world" taxpayers should not have to help pay for a new stadium, declined to say how large a subsidy he would be willing to tolerate.
"There's no logical region why a private owner ought to demand that a government should subsidize their existence," Barry said. "On the other hand, it's understandable why that would happen."
Barry said, for example, that the move of the Oakland Raiders to Los Angeles, which came without National Football League approval, started "a whole new trend . . . . Football owners, and in some instances baseball owners are really trying to up the ante with mayors and other owners of public facilities."
But Barry said that the public should be willing to invest in professional sports. "It's good psychologically for the region, it's good economically for the region."
According to the mayor, the Redskins are responsible for $4 million in tax revenue for the city each year.
Addressing the topic of baseball, Barry said he was optimistic Washington would be one of the first two cities to be granted a new franchise when the major leagues expand. He said there were still three potential ownership groups, including Cooke, interested in buying a team.