Disputed footbridge reemerges
Town sees Route 1 project as an asset
A plan by the Kraft Group to construct a $9 million footbridge over Route 1 connecting parking lots and a proposed high-technology office park with Patriot Place, Gillette Stadium, and a new MBTA stop has been resurrected two years after public outcry halted the project.
This time, though, the effort is spearheaded by Foxborough town officials who say the bridge is a necessity for safety and economic development. They said it would facilitate construction of the 1.5-million-plus-square-foot office park and would help produce tax revenues for decades to come.
Thousands cross the busy highway on game and event days, and the proposed overhead bridge is seen as a way to alleviate risk while linking thousands of potential technology park employees with shops and restaurants across the street.
Like other shopping centers across the region, the sprawling mall with its 1.3 million square feet of upscale retail, dining, and entertainment options has been hit hard by the recession, Town Manager Kevin Paicos said.
“But putting 5,000 people across the street would be a boon to them,’’ he said. “And the town would love it. We’re all over it.’’
The significant pluses to building the bridge begin with enhanced safety and the regional economic benefit of creating thousands of high-end jobs, said Paicos. “And, third, the tax revenue for the town would be enormous and has the potential to stabilize our tax base for decades to come.’’
The Kraft Group submitted a plan to the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs in 2009 for close to 1.5 million square feet of office buildings and about 150,000 square feet of retail space on 146 acres across from its stadium.
That included a request for $9 million in federal stimulus funding for the footbridge, which would measure 8 yards by 45 yards, with elevators on each side. It would be maintained by the company.
Once word about the project got out, though, the protests flew - especially after the proposed bridge beat out other initiatives like roadwork in Canton and Braintree. Kraft Group owner Robert Kraft, one of the world’s billionaires according to Forbes magazine, was pilloried for looking to build a private walkway with public funds.
In an interview, Paicos said the goal of the stimulus funding program was to boost select private projects with public money, but the initial bridge proposal had two fatal flaws, at least in the eyes of the public.
“There was a perception that it would only link properties owned by the Krafts, who would be the only ones to benefit, and that it was 100 percent public money,’’ Paicos said.
But the intent, he said, was for people to be able to walk safely from the various parking lots not owned by the Krafts to games and other events at the stadium, as well as use the bridge to visit Patriot Place. It may be necessary for the Krafts to put up private investment to help the project along this time around, he said.
As a preliminary show of support, Foxborough selectmen voted recently to endorse the bridge. Now Paicos has to convince the regional planning agencies that the project is worth funding.
“One thing is certain: Without the bridge, the tech park won’t get built,’’ he said.
Paicos is working with Foxborough building commissioner William Casbarra and new town planner Sharon Wason to clear hurdles. Town Meeting voters would have to approve zoning changes for the Route 1 Overlay District that will house the proposed park.
Paicos said the state must also be persuaded to put the bridge project back on its priority list. He has also been working to get himself appointed to the regional transportation and planning commissions that decide how stimulus money is spent.
“We will be pointing out the benefits and making sure we have a seat at the table,’’ he said.
Dan Krantz, the Kraft Group’s director of site development, said the land for the park has been ready for development for several years. The company has courted tenants who would support a large-scale development, but no one has signed on.
“We aren’t exclusively focused on biotech, as has been reported in the past,’’ Krantz said. “We’re simply intent on developing the property to its fullest potential, which we think allows for a project that could create thousands of temporary and permanent jobs and substantial tax revenue.’’
Massachusetts has identified the site as a growth district, which Krantz said supports the company’s belief that it could be a significant economic generator.
“Unfortunately, the global economy over the past several years has not been conducive to major new development, and we have no immediate prospects to report,’’ Krantz said. “But we are continuing to prepare so that we are ready to move as soon as we identify a tenant.’’
At the state level, key commissioners including Greg Bialecki, the state’s secretary of housing and economic development, say the Foxborough location is one of a few spots statewide that could accommodate such a potentially large project.
Kimberly Haberlin, a spokeswoman for the state’s Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, said the agency has encouraged the Krafts and the town to reach out when significant economic development activity occurs at the park. That way, she said, “we can discuss next steps around this important economic development and public safety improvement project.’’
That includes the footbridge, she confirmed in an e-mail.
Meanwhile, the MBTA is studying bringing a full-time T stop to the Kraft complex. MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said there are no new developments on that front and T service is still available on game days only.
Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.