Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke is negotiating with Laurel/Pimlico track operator Joe De Francis to buy a parcel of land adjacent to Laurel Race Course and build a $150 million stadium for his team, a source close to the negotiations said last night.
Cooke, 81, would pay for the 78,000-seat stadium, which would not interfere with racetrack operations, the source said. Cooke has been spurned in Virginia and bogged down in Washington in his attempt to get a new stadium for his club.
Talks concerning a stadium in Laurel could complicate, but wouldn't end, Baltimore's effort to lure an existing NFL team to Camden Yards, Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said.
"Clearly, it's not going to help," Mr. Belgrad said. "It's going to place a cloud over our efforts. I don't think there's any other way to interpret it."
Mr. Belgrad said he was told at the NFL owners meeting in Chicago on Tuesday that commissioner Paul Tagliabue informed the owners that Cooke was looking at options in Maryland.
A Redskins source said that if the deal in Washington collapsed, it was more likely that Cooke would attempt to build a stadium in northern Virginia near the team's training complex than in Maryland.
George Allen, son of the late Redskins coach, was elected governor of Virginia last month and expressed interest during the campaign in luring the club to Virginia.
Mr. Belgrad said he didn't think Gov. William Donald Schaefer knew about any possible talks between Cooke and De Francis.
"We have no intentions of cutting off any discussions or altering our course even if this is more than speculation," Mr. Belgrad said. "The fact the Redskins have picked a site has proven so far not to mean anything in the long run."
He was referring to the deal Cooke made with Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder for a stadium in Alexandria, Va. That deal collapsed when it failed to win state support.
Cooke then signed a non-binding memorandum of agreement in February with District of Columbia officials to build a stadium near RFK Stadium. That project has run into snags, including environmental ones, and has not been approved.
D.C. officials said they had not heard that Cooke was considering leaving the city again.
Cooke's talks with Washington officials have been rancorous at times, and his relationship with Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly has been strained. She called him a "billionaire bully" when he made the failed deal to go to Virginia. Mr. Cooke recently declined to attend a hearing in Congress on the deal.
Mr. Cooke declined to comment on the possibility of moving the team. He told the Associated Press last night that he preferred to build a stadium in Washington. Mr. De Francis declined to comment.
It could be difficult to build a stadium in Laurel without state approval because of infrastructure -- roads, sewers and other services -- that might be required.
The league could try to block a move of another team to Baltimore.
Mr. Belgrad said the stadium authority would not be involved in building a stadium in Laurel because it has approval to build a football stadium only at Camden Yards.