Howard County officials yesterday pledged to cooperate with representatives of Jack Kent Cooke despite an expressed preference for Baltimore as the future home of a National Football League team.
Mr. Cooke, owner of the Washington Redskins, says he plans to move his team to Laurel and build a stadium next to Laurel Race Course.
Mr. Cooke's representatives met with County Executive Charles I. Ecker, County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, and other county officials for 58 minutes yesterday behind closed doors.
Mr. Cooke's representatives said construction of a new stadium could begin as early as August if Mr. Cooke gets the cooperation he needs from state and local governments.
"This was not a meeting in which they tried to change thinking or anything -- we were just getting information," Mr. Ecker said.
After the meeting, Mr. Ecker and Mr. Gray seemed more open to the possibility of having the Redskins in Laurel. Both had been cool to the idea earlier.
"I would urge both the governor and Mr. Cooke to sit down and talk," Mr. Ecker said.
Mr. Gray, a Redskins fan and a staunch supporter of an NFL franchise in Baltimore, characterized the meeting as "very general, very, very positive, and very productive."
A Baltimore-based franchise is still preferable, but the chances of getting one are "very, very slim," Mr. Gray said. "We really need to approach [the Cooke proposal] similarly to any other business thinking about coming to the state and evaluate it accordingly. They impressed upon us the seriousness of their coming to this area and their desire to cooperate with county officials. We stand ready to assist them. Their technical people will work with our technical people to begin the process."
Walter Lynch, project manager for the Laurel undertaking and one of three Cooke representatives at yesterday's meeting, said his main purpose was to let county officials know the seriousness of Mr. Cooke's intentions.
"Everything . . . is under discussion," he said. "We want to hear what they want and don't want, and come back with that in our proposal."
Howard County's part in the equation is that parking for the proposed new stadium would be in the county. In addition, some county and state roads near the site would have to be altered to handle traffic.
"They told us they have some money to improve some of the roads" in the area, Mr. Ecker said. "How much will probably depend on their traffic studies."
Mr. Ecker said he had no plans to undertake a traffic study, but is hopeful the Cooke studies will include information from the state.
"I told them we would work with them," Mr. Ecker said. "Their engineers will be working with our people" at an exploratory level.
The local pledge of support and cooperation does not mean that he now prefers Laurel to Baltimore, Mr. Ecker said. "I told them I support the governor and the stadium authority. They understand that."
Mr. Gray said he would invite Mr. Lynch and other Cooke representatives to give the County Council a public presentation in early January similar to the one he and other officials received yesterday.
Other people in addition to Mr. Ecker, Mr. Gray, and the Cooke representatives attending yesterday's closed-door meeting were County Administrator Raquel Sanudo, Public Works Director James M. Irvin, Planning and Zoning Director Joseph W. Rutter Jr., Economic Development Director Richard W. Story and County Council Administrator Sheila M. Tolliver.