By Meg Vaillancourt, Globe Staff, 12/19/98
Now that Connecticut lawmakers have approved a new $375 million stadium for
the New England Patriots, state and local leaders there say the team's move
will help Hartford shrug off its nickname as ``The Filing Cabinet of
But Hartford's gain will be Foxborough's loss. And Massachusetts
officials are only now beginning to grapple with the fallout.
The biggest question: What will happen to Foxboro Stadium -- and the state
and local revenues it generates -- once the Patriots move to Hartford?
Guesses as to the future of the site include everything from an office park
to a NASCAR speedway.
Team owner Robert Kraft and his son Jonathan do not have definite plans
for the roughly 300 acres the family owns at Foxborough. And, they point out,
until Connecticut builds the new open-air stadium in Hartford, the Patriots
will continue playing there.
``Connecticut lawmakers just voted to build a new stadium and right now
we're focused on finalizing the development deal to make that happen,'' said
Jonathan Kraft. ``So we haven't got any firm plans for doing anything other
than play football in Foxboro right now.''
But industry sources say given the size of their holdings, the Krafts are
more likely to develop the property than sell it.
State and local officials suggest the Krafts could build a new office
park or light industrial facility on the site. The property includes a cargo
rail link, which on game days is now transformed into commuter rail service.
A new mall won't work, unless Foxborough changes its current zoning
regulations. But there's also talk of transforming the stadium into a NASCAR
speedway to rival the track in Loudon, N.H., or a family entertainment
And as the only open air stadium available in Massachusetts for large
rock tours such as the Rolling Stones and U2, Foxboro Stadium is likely to
continue hosting large entertainment events, at least for the next few years.
But industry sources say the 27-year-old stadium is badly in need of
repairs, which could cost $20 million. Plus it's estimated the Krafts spend
another $4 million to $5 million a year to operate the aging stadium.
Some state and local officials are worried about whether the Krafts will
continue pouring money into an aging facility if more activity isn't relocated
to the site.
To ensure the property continues to generate taxes after the Patriots
move to Hartford, Governor Paul Cellucci has pledged to help Kraft redevelop
Cellucci, who unsuccessfully pressed for a new taxpayer-funded stadium
for the Patriots in Massachusetts, said the state should pick up the tab for
any infrastructure improvements needed to redevelop Foxboro.
``That's a big tract of land,'' Cellucci said. ``We want to be sure it
continues to be generate the economic activity.''
House Speaker Thomas Finneran has vehemently opposed Cellucci's plan to
use taxpayer funding to assist the Patriots, and a less generous plan proposed
by Senate President Thomas Birmingham. It remains unclear whether Finneran
will agree to any legislation aimed at helping Kraft redevelop the site.
Finneran was unavailable for comment yesterday.
But the state routinely pays for infrastructure improvements to attract
or retain businesses. ``I think the speaker objected to state funds going to
the stadium,'' Cellucci said. ``I don't think Finneran has a problem with
The Patriots have played at Foxboro Stadium for 25 years. And since the
Hartford site requires environmental clean up before construction of a stadium
can begin, the Patriots will keep playing at Foxboro for at least another two
or three years.
The town of Foxborough owns the land on which the stadium sits, while
the Krafts own roughly 300 acres surrounding it. Foxborough, a suburb with a
population of about 16,000, now receives about $600,000 a year in revenues
generated by a surcharge on Patriots tickets. And local nonprofits earn
roughly half a million dollars a year through parking and concessions at the
But that money will disappear once the team moves to Connecticut.
``It's going to hurt us a lot,'' Foxborough selectman Michael Coppola said
yesterday. ``For example, money generated by the ticket surcharge funds the
equivalent of half our police budget each year. So you can see the team's move
to Connecticut will really blow a big hole in our operating budget.''
One thing is definite at this point. Even after the Patriots leave,
Foxboro Stadium will still be home to the New England Revolution, the
professional soccer team owned by Kraft.
``The Revolution will continue playing in Foxboro Stadium indefinitely,''
Jonathan Kraft said yesterday. ``And we'll be talking with local and state
officials about what kind of things might help generate economic activity
after the Patriots leave.''
Roughly 19,000 fans come to Foxboro to watch soccer, compared to the
60,000 who attend sell-out football games. Proceeds from the soccer ticket
surcharge generate only about half of what the town gains from the football
Foxborough officials, however, say they are encouraged by the fact that
attendance at Revolution soccer games has increased every year.
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