Cooke woos officials over Laurel proposal

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke has mounted an aggressive lobbying campaign to convince public officials in Maryland that he is serious about moving his football team to Laurel.

Over the past two days, the 81-year-old millionaire has personally called at least three state legislators and local county officials and invited the president of the Maryland Senate to his Northwest Washington home to court him over coffee and doughnuts.

The message each time appears to be the same: That he did not block the National Football League from awarding a franchise to Baltimore; that he is sincere in his desire to move the Redskins to Anne Arundel County; and that he is ready and willing to work with Maryland officials to get the project going.

He even told Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, that he wants to meet with Gov. William Donald Schaefer, although the governor's scheduling office said Mr. Cooke has not yet called seeking an appointment.

Mr. Schaefer has bitterly accused Mr. Cooke of blocking Baltimore's chances to land a team, has characterized the Laurel proposal as a ploy intended to get Washington, D.C., or Virginia officials to up their ante for the team and has vowed to do whatever he can in his final year in office to block a Redskins' move here.

Yesterday, however, indications were that the move to Laurel was not blocked so far. Alan M. Rifkin, a lawyer for Joe De Francis, co-owner of the property adjacent to Laurel Race Course that Mr. Cooke wants to buy, said the two met yesterday to discuss the deal.

"We are exchanging information," Mr. Rifkin said. "Our transaction becomes more and more specific and concrete moment by moment."

Describing the surprise call he received from Mr. Cooke, state Sen. Michael J. Wagner, who represents the district where the Redskins' stadium would be built, said:

"He said, 'I'm serious about this thing. I'm going to spend my own money. I'm not using this as a wedge, not using it as a ploy. I'm not using you guys. I'm not trying to embarrass you. I had nothing to do with the fact a team didn't come to Baltimore.' "

Asked if he believed what the owner said, Mr. Wagner replied: "I think if he is going to spend his money, you don't have any choice but to believe him. But no one is going to jump through any hoops until he makes a solid commitment."

Sen. Thomas M. Yeager, whose constituency includes the city of Laurel, said Mr. Cooke also called him Wednesday. "Basically, he wanted to make it known his desire to move to Laurel was a very real one, not a ploy. He was extremely sincere."

Committed to region

Senate President Miller described Mr. Cooke as "a super salesman" and said, "In my opinion, he is positively, absolutely, unequivocally committed to the Laurel region." He said the owner liked the location between Interstate 95 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, liked being halfway between the two cities, and liked the possibility of nailing down the television market from Baltimore to Northern Virginia.

Mr. Miller said he was shown plans of the stadium site that also indicated the possibility of an adjacent arena that could house the Washington Capitals hockey team and the Washington Bullets basketball team. Both now play at the USAir Arena in Largo.

A number of state legislators say they are impressed that Mr. Cooke is willing to spend $160 million of his own money to build a 78,600-seat stadium on a 55-acre tract he says he intends to buy. In the face of such an offer, some legislators say it would be politically difficult to ask taxpayers to foot the bill for a similarly priced stadium in South Baltimore next to Oriole Park at Camden Yards. But Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said the construction costs are only part of the picture.

Road improvements

He said a preliminary review of road improvements alone for a Laurel stadium suggested costs could run as high as the $160 million the public would pay to build a football stadium at Camden Yards or possibly more.

For example, he said, a quickly compiled list of eight road improvements around the Laurel site could add from $120 million to $170 million to the overall cost. He emphasized that lengthy and detailed studies of four potential stadium sites were performed in 1986 before Camden Yards was selected, but said he knew of no such study of the Laurel site.

Moreover, he insisted, the economic spinoff of a stadium would be much greater in an urban setting such as Baltimore than in a suburban location such as Laurel. He said that has been proved in Kansas City and other locations that have built stadiums away from city centers.

The Camden Yards site, he said, has already been purchased, has access to various forms of mass transit, and almost all the road, rail and other infrastructure improvements required for the football stadium are in place.

"I'm not trying to wave red flags," he said, "but a professional and meaningful study hasn't been done, and must be done. These are all issues that would have to be considered."

Mr. Cooke has estimated the infrastructure costs at around $36 million, but has not made clear how much, if any, of the improvements he would be willing to finance. Senators Wagner and Miller and others who have spoken with him said he did not address that issue.

County ordinance

Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall, however, informed Mr. Cooke in a conversation Wednesday that his county has an "adequate facilities" ordinance that requires developers to share in the cost of transportation improvements needed as a result of their projects.

"He briefly explained to him how that works and indicated there may be some costs," said Mr. Neall's spokeswoman, Louise Hayman.

Because of their cost, most stadiums are built at public expense. A privately developed Redskins stadium would require the leasing of thousands of premium seats to generate the required revenue, said Paul Lambert, a financial analyst specializing in sports facilities for Price Waterhouse. Mr. Cooke plans 331 sky boxes and 15,000 club seats at his stadium, vastly more than Baltimore's proposed stadium would have.

Mr. Lambert said that the infrastructure costs would be lower at Camden Yards than Laurel but doubted that the Laurel figure would be as high as Mr. Belgrad has estimated.

His firm, a consulting and accounting company, recently completed a study of the infrastructure costs of a proposed stadium in downtown Boston. They estimate the costs at about $40 million, in a location that lacks many of the necessary road and utility connections.

BALTIMORE VS. LAUREL

LOCATION

Baltimore: On half of an 85-acre state-owned parcel in Maryland's largest city, adjacent to Oriole Park at Camden Yards and Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

Laurel: Equidistant (14 miles) from Baltimore and Washington on a 55-acre tract in Anne Arundel County, adjacent to the Laurel Race Course and between Interstate 95 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

SEATING

Baltimore: 70,000 seats

Laurel: 78,600 seats

PROPERTY TAX REVENUE

Baltimore: None

Laurel: Figure unknown

ESTIMATED STADIUM CONSTRUCTION COST

Baltimore: $160 million. Land already owned by the state.

Laurel: $160 million. Land owned by Laurel Racing Association and under negotiation for purchase by Redskins' owner Jack Kent Cooke.

STADIUM FINANCING

Baltimore: Financed by a combination of lottery-backed bonds, stadium revenues and $1 million a year the city already pays the stadium authority.

Laurel: Privately financed by Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke.

INFRASTRUCTURE NEEDS AND FINANCING

Baltimore: Minimal. Site has been purchased, road network improved, and other infrastructure in place because of its downtown location. Is on the MARC and Light Rail lines.

Laurel: Site is between I-95 and Interstate 295. Access roads and ramps connecting to the interstates would have to be upgraded, as would some sewers and other utilities. Mr. Cooke's initial estimates reflect a cost of $36 million for this work; state officials say that figure is much too low and could be $120 million to $170 million.

AVAILABILITY IF STARTED NOW

Baltimore: 1996 season (A relocated team could play at Memorial Stadium in the meantime.)

Laurel: 1996 season

LEASE

Baltimore: A minimum of 15 years but could go for 30 years, as the Orioles have. Lease has to be signed before construction begins. Proposed lease calls for team to cover game-day expenses but keep revenues from stadium advertising, concessions, tickets (other than amusement tax).

Laurel: Redskins owner pledges to keep the team in Maryland for a minimum of 50 years and to bind any subsequent owner to the 50-year commitment. Owner would control all revenues (other than amusement tax).

PREMIUM SEATS

Baltimore: 108 sky boxes and 7,500 club seats, all already sold. More luxury seats could be added to design by team owner.

Laurel: 331 sky boxes and 15,000 club seats. All 55,000 seats at RFK Stadium are already held by season ticket holders, and the team has 48,600 applicants on its waiting list.

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