Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke yesterday all but dismissed Laurel as a site for his proposed NFL stadium. Instead, he said, he is "pretty sure" he will build the 78,000-seat project somewhere in Prince George's County.
"It looks like it will be nearly impossible, due to factors outside our control, to fulfill our original desire" to build at Laurel, said Cooke, signaling a fifth site change in six years.
The team owner, appearing in Annapolis at a State House news conference to re-announce the move of the team's summer training camp from Pennsylvania to Frostburg State, stopped short of eliminating Laurel from the running.
Cooke has been softening his support for Laurel in recent weeks, but yesterday's comments were the most definitive that the suburb midway between Baltimore and Washington -- where he once vowed to build a stadium come "hell or high water" -- has fallen from contention.
He acknowledged the opposition from residents and others concerned about traffic congestion and the community's quality of life. In contrast, he said, Prince George's County, adjacent to the District of Columbia, offered sites with greater space and fewer traffic problems.
"I am not here to define where we are going. . . . I can tell you my preference obviously is in Maryland. Somewhere in Prince George's County. I'm pretty sure that's where it is going to be," Cooke said.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening said he is pleased by Cooke's "apparent" decision to abandon the Laurel site, which the governor opposed as "environmentally damaging and unworkable as far as the roads are concerned."
"I wish him well as far as other sites go, from Baltimore to anywhere else," Glendening said. "Remember, these sites come up and down pretty rapidly."
Among the several Prince George's sites Cooke has said he would consider are a proposed multi-use development known as Konterra, the property occupied by USAir Arena in Landover, one inside the Beltway known as the Wilson Farm, another site off I-95, and one in Suitland.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a vocal supporter of the effort to bring the Redskins to Maryland, said he believes the 296-acre Wilson Farm has emerged as a favorite.
"I think it's the prime site because it is the site where Mr. Cooke would face the least amount of opposition," Miller said. "Mr. Cooke is not a young man, and he's a lot like [former Gov. William Donald] Schaefer. He wants it done now."
If necessary to bring Cooke to Prince George's County, Miller said he would support state financing of roads leading to a new stadium there.
Glendening also left open the possibility that the state would enter a "public-private partnership" to upgrade the roads needed for a stadium if "there was some benefit to the community other than the 10 days the stadium was being used . . ."
Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry has had no substantive discussions with the team and has not developed positions on specific sites, according to Curry spokesman Royce Holloway.
"Our stand here is we would welcome Mr. Cooke and the Redskins to Prince George's County with all the right factors," Holloway said.
The P.G. County Council is scheduled to vote today to purchase the Wilson Farm land, which lies just inside the Capital Beltway, for about $6 million as part of a plan to develop the site as a recreation area with a golf course, swimming pool and other facilities for residents.
The Redskins have held preseason camp at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., for 33 years but will begin workouts in July in Frostburg.