Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke and Prince George's County have agreed to pick up some $15 million of the state's costs for a new Landover stadium for the team -- concessions that legislative leaders say are vital for winning General Assembly approval for the project.
The deal was all but completed last night, and a Redskins representative said he was optimistic a final agreement could be signed by early next week.
The deal would reduce the state's contribution to the project to about $58 million, from its original commitment of about $73 million.
While that savings was about $9 million less than what legislative leaders had hoped to achieve, supporters hailed it as good news.
It was the second boost for stadium proponents this week, coming only days after Baltimore's new NFL team told legislators it is willing to pay $24 million toward the cost of its $200 million stadium at Camden Yards.
"It's a turning point," said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. "We're saving the state $40 million, and that's a major accomplishment."
Cooke, the Redskins owner, has agreed to build the Landover stadium himself, but many lawmakers objected to the commitment by Gov. Parris N. Glendening to spend $73 million for road and infrastructure improvements for the project.
Under pressure from the General Assembly, Prince George's County agreed this week to contribute roughly $12 million to those costs -- after initially insisting on paying nothing.
The county's share will come from money it will gain thanks to a revised revenue-sharing formula for state highway money endorsed by the governor.
Cooke had balked at contributing to infrastructure costs, but agreed this week to pay just under $3 million for new sewer and water lines on the stadium site, sources said. The money will not come from a ticket surcharge, an idea that had been pushed by Prince George's officials and others but resisted by Cooke.
"We're confident that a deal can be fashioned quickly," said Gerard E. Evans, a Redskins lobbyist. "The spirit is one of cooperation."
A warning on the deal, though, came yesterday from legislators from Baltimore, who are concerned that the city stands to lose some $13 million in highway funds through the planned revision to the highway revenue-sharing formula.
That revision -- which takes money away from Baltimore and gives it to the counties -- is crucial to Prince George's plan to contribute to the stadium project.
Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and city legislators have made it clear they expect Glendening to find another source of revenue to make up for the city's lost highway funds.
"I don't want to screw up the Redskins deal, but this isn't going anywhere until Baltimore is taken care of," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat and chair of the powerful Senate budget committee.
Glendening administration officials are still looking for a way to replace the lost funds, she said.
The apparent breakthrough on the Redskins came at the same time the legislature was taking its first votes on stadium-related matters. The House Appropriations Committee yesterday overwhelmingly approved a measure that will require Baltimore team owner Art Modell to contribute $24 million to the stadium project.
Del. Robert L. Flanagan, R-Howard, said he voted for the bill because it would help reduce the state's costs, but likened it to "perfume for a skunk."
"For many of you, this bill may be enough," Flanagan told the committee. "But for many of us it's not. The deal is still a skunk."
While the Modell bill is expected to easily pass the legislature, the real test of support for the stadiums will come next month when lawmakers vote on the annual state budget -- which includes the state money for both projects.