General Assembly leaders yesterday applauded the Cleveland Browns' decision to move to Baltimore and predicted it will help the state forge a separate agreement with the Washington Redskins to move to Prince George's County.
"I think we're on the verge of an historic week in Maryland where we finalize the location of two [NFL] franchises in Maryland," said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., an Allegany County Democrat. "I'm confident that the negotiations with the Redskins can be finalized this week."
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Democrat from Prince George's County, agreed, saying the huge financial incentives given the Browns should make compromise possible on the comparatively small amount of money still in dispute in the Redskins' deal.
"It would be impossible to guarantee [Browns owner] Art Modell $250 million and let a matter of $20 million between Prince George's and the state of Maryland make or break a deal in terms of bringing an NFL franchise to the Washington suburbs," said Mr. Miller.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening said he spoke by telephone with Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke yesterday morning to inform him of the Browns' move and said he told Mr. Cooke: " 'Let us use this as a stimulus. . . . to try to really move ahead,' " on the Prince George's stadium plans.
The state has already offered to pay for $50 million in road improvements leading up to the proposed Redskins' stadium site known as the Wilson Farm in Landover. But Mr. Cooke and Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry have been unable to agree on who should pay for about $23 million in road, parking and other improvements on the site itself.
One source close to the negotiations said Mr. Glendening offered to increase the state's financial commitment to the Redskins' stadium beyond $50 million, but Mr. Glendening denied it.
"We didn't talk about any details whatsoever," he said.
If the state has not done so, then Mr. Taylor said it should.
"I think the state should take that final step -- whatever that final step needs to be -- to complete the Redskins' package," he said.
In an interview with The Sun, Mr. Cooke seemed willing to consider sharing the state with a rival NFL club. After maintaining for the past two years that the Baltimore-Washington area had become one huge market, yesterday he called them "two distinct areas."
Mr. Cooke congratulated the city of Baltimore, wished fellow owner Art Modell "the best of luck," and said, "We are continuing our negotiations with Wayne Curry and Parris Glendening, as well as with the District of Columbia and Virginia."
Glenda Wilson, a senior adviser to Mr. Curry, said, "It is not a deal unless it is approved by the county exec. Everyone can continue talking as much as they want, but we're still in the same position we were in last week -- when we pulled our deal [off the table] -- until they come up with something on paper."
,3 The governor said Mr. Cooke took the news about the Browns in stride and was already "looking to the next steps" that have to be taken to conclude the Redskins' deal.
"He was more surprised than anything," Mr. Glendening said. "I think he'd like to be the only fish in the pond, but I think it's a big enough pond for two successful fish."
State legislators either embraced the Browns' move or, if they opposed it, said it was too late to do anything about it. Financing for the new football stadium at Camden Yards was put in place in a law passed back in 1987.
"I wouldn't say the horse is out of the barn, but it is on the way out," said Sen. Christopher Van Hollen, a Montgomery County Democrat who has argued for years that the stadium money would be better spent on school construction and renovation.
"I don't think Maryland should be using taxpayer dollars to put together sweetheart deals to steal teams from other cities," he said. "I think we have greater needs than football stadiums."
But Mr. Van Hollen conceded there is little the legislature can or will do to interfere with the Browns' deal, although he said he would "draw the line" if there are cost overruns and the Glendening administration seeks additional funds.