WASHINGTON - Rather than gamble on a desperate fourth and long "Hail, Mary" bomb, Gov. L. Douglas Wilder and Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke have decided to punt a controversial proposal to build a new football stadium at Potomac Yard in Alexandria, Va.
"I am sorry to say that we cannot proceed," Wilder said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon.
The plan, under which the state would have issued $130 million of tax-exempt bonds for infrastructure improvements, was opposed by Alexandria residents and some state lawmakers, who accused Wilder and Cooke of trying to do an end run around them.
In June, the two men huddled secretly and signed a letter of intent to build a 78,600-seat football stadium for the Redskins at Potomac Yard, an abandoned railroad switching yard. In July, Wilder and Cooke, flanked by Redskins Super Bowl trophies, staged a press conference at Potomac Yard to announce the deal, catching some Alexandria officials by surprise and throwing them on the defensive.
The defense held. Alexandria residents, worried that a stadium would destroy neighborhood character, organized a group called Citizens Against the Stadium and aggressively lobbied state lawmakers, who must approve such packages before work can begin.
In a joint statement issued by Wilder and Cooke, the two men singled out Alexandria for criticism, saying they had expected both the Virginia General Assembly and Alexandria to be "partners in formulating a final proposal. "
They said the General Assembly held "valuable hearings" that helped move the proposal along, but added that "the city of Alexandria closed the door to our overtures even before our proposal was unveiled."
In addition, the two men pointed to bad publicity as their game plan's downfall. "Although we recognized that some of the media was predisposed against bringing the Redskins to Potomac Yard, we never anticipated the intensity of the resistance before we could present the facts," Wilder and Cooke said.
Even without opposition from Alexandrians, the proposal was in jeopardy. Many lawmakers questioned whether Virginia would benefit from the stadium and a proposed mixed-use development to be constructed next to it.
Under the original plan laid out by Wilder and Cooke, Cooke would enjoy tax exemptions of about $7.5 million annually. In addition, he would get a one-time exemption of $2.9 million from taxes on materials and supplies needed for construction. The state also would have issued $130 million of bonds to fund infrastructure improvements at the proposed stadium site, such as new roads and landscaping. Cooke would have paid the $160 million cost of construction.
Virginia officials forecast that the state would more than recover its costs. They projected revenues of $3.4 million in 1993, moving to $40.2 million annually by 2012.
After legislators expressed concerns that the projections might be too rosy, Wilder and Cooke huddled again to renegotiate the deal. Cooke reportedly agreed to accept an admissions tax on tickets, but was unwilling to make larger concessions that Wilder said were needed to hit pay dirt with the General Assembly. Introduced in a private meeting between Wilder and Cooke, those concessions were not made public.
Cooke said Wednesday that "in light of the dramatic changes which were proposed [by Wilder] that I cannot abide, I now have no further interest in the Potomac Yard site."
The Redskins, who are 3-2 and in second place in the National Football Conference's Eastern Division, currently play home games at RFK Stadium in the District of Columbia. Cooke has said for some time that he wants to build a new stadium with lucrative amenities such as sky boxes.
It is unclear whether Cooke will now reopen negotiations with the District of Columbia, where officials are cautiously optimistic that he eventually will decide to stay put. However, Cooke also has expressed interest in a suburban Maryland site, and officials in the Virginia counties of Fairfax and Loudoun have indicated they would like to play ball with Cooke.