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Patriots plan hits hurdle

Prior Coverage

-- JUNE 23 --
Patriots look to win over town on stadium

-- JUNE 9 --
43 of 80 suites sold for proposed stadium

-- MAY 25 --
Stadium bill signed, but seat sales lag

Impasse on steam plant site clears
Finneran offers idea on Patriots stadium
In Conn., Patriots' stadium deal opponents plan lawsuit
Hartford steam plant defends its moving cost
Patriots stadium plan threatened
Kraft has new suitor in Houston
Patriots dealt setback on Conn. site
Moving fee could trip Patriots
Conn. must meet April 2 deadline
How Kraft's Mass. dream fizzled
Krafts seen winning generous deal
Conn. OK's deal
Activist skeptical
More stadium fallout
Whither Foxboro

Conn. OK's Patriots stadium

By Tina Cassidy, Globe Staff, 12/16/99

HARTFORD -- Accomplishing in just four weeks what the Massachusetts Legislature could not in several years, the Connecticut General Assembly last night agreed to build a $375 million stadium for the New England Patriots as part of a massive revitalization effort for this struggling city.

After nearly eight hours of debate, during which the decision to lure the Patriots with one of the richest deals ever carved for a National Football League team appeared to be losing ground, the House voted 97-49 in favor and the Senate later approved the plan 27-8.

The decisions handed team owner Robert Kraft both a financial and philosophical victory.

``Thank you, guv,'' Kraft said at a news conference after the special session. ``All this congeniality, I thought I was fitting right in.''

Kraft, who tried unsuccessfully to build a stadium in Massachusetts, had said he believed the Patriots should stay in New England. But without a new stadium, he warned, he would be forced to sell or move the team. With this deal, he could become one of the richest owners in the league, sports analysts have said.

Asked how the Connecticut legislative process differed from that on Beacon Hill, Governor John Rowland answered: ``This one's concluded.'' Rowland is expected to sign the legislation later this week.

Kraft now has until Jan. 15 to sign a development agreement, still being drafted, outlining how the stadium will be built. Both Rowland and Kraft said they did not foresee anything stopping the move, targeted for 2001.

The overwhelming show of support in the House came after many representatives rose to criticize the deal's enormous cost as well as the unusual speed at which it was constructed and put before them.

But apparently swayed by last-minute changes in the bill, and desperate for a way to remake this insurance capital, lawmakers surprised observers who had been predicting a close tally by embracing the ambitious plan to bring professional football here.

Just before debate began yesterday, Senate minority leader Louis DeLuca, a Woodbury Republican who was critical of the proposal, seemed to symbolize the feelings of several colleagues as he pinched his nose and said he intended to vote yes.

The final bill, approved by the House at 7:25 p.m. and the Senate three hours later, authorizes the state to borrow about $275 million for the 68,000-seat stadium, infrastructure improvements, and cleanup of the site along the Connecticut River. Another $100 million in cash from the state's projected budget surplus was earmarked for the development, part of a $1 billion downtown revitalization effort known as Adriaen's Landing.

Kraft will operate and play his team in the stadium rent-free, and keep all the revenue from concessions. He will be required to invest $50 million in a new hotel and build an interactive NFL pavilion.

As the day unfolded, lawmakers scrambled to make some changes in the bill, which has been on an unprecedented fast track since Rowland signed an initial agreement with Kraft on Nov. 19.

Among last-minute alterations:

The short time frame for both construction and environmental permits was stretched from 10 days to more than a month, compared to a more typical 18-month process.

Kraft's tax-exempt status for the NFL retail and virtual-reality pavilion he has committed to build was revoked.

The cap on a state guarantee to pay for unsold luxury seats was reduced by more than 25 percent, limiting Connecticut's liability to a maximum of $13 million a year.

While many lawmakers raised objections to the project, even some who didn't like any of the terms said they would vote for it, expressing a seemingly widespread feeling that the city's economic and psychic needs outweighed the hundreds of millions the state will pay for just 10 pro football games a year. The University of Connecticut football team will play as many as six games there a year.

With a single protester standing outside the state Capitol carrying a sign that said ``Welcome to the giveaway city,'' the House plowed ahead, struggling to quantify the value -- financial and otherwise -- of a football franchise.

Lawmakers conceded that they did not know how much the environmental cleanup costs would be for the proposed stadium site. Nor could they guarantee that the facility could be built on the site, now occupied by a steam plant, because costs of moving the facility that heats and cools many downtown office buildings could run too high.

``We do know that's not the responsibility of Mr. Kraft,'' said Representative John Wayne Fox, a conservative Democrat from Stamford.

``This is not a process I'm proud of. What committee reviewed this? How many public hearings did we have? One? With all due respect, it was a dog and pony show. . . . What's the matter with us?''

Mary Mushinsky, a Wallingford Democrat, said she was swayed against the project by constituents who called her office.

But in the end, Republicans and fiscal conservatives joined with liberal Democrats to vote for the enormous project.

``This is a reasonable risk,'' said Representative Edward Graziani, an Ellington Democrat.

Said Representative Dominic Mazzoccoli, a Newington Republican: ``Mayor Mike, this vote's for you. Merry Christmas.''

Mayor Mike, as Hartford's leader and civic booster Michael Peters is affectionately known, took an honorary seat on the chamber rostrum next to House Speaker Thomas Ritter during the debate.

When it was over, the chamber erupted in applause and Ritter lifted a Patriots T-shirt in celebration.

Connecticut, a state desperate to retain more of its young people and become more than a stop along the way to Boston or New York, is looking for a linchpin to make Hartford known for more than insurance.

In fact, some formerly undecided legislators, angered by spirited cracks against Greater Hartford from Massachusetts media, cast votes for the stadium in spite.

Invoking what became a wave of anti-Boston sentiment during yesterday's session, Representative Robert Ward, House minority leader, said the city, which had been dubbed ``the filing cabinet of the world'' by Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy, was gladly opening its drawers.

Meanwhile, Kraft, in an opinion piece in yesterday's Hartford Courant, wrote: ``In hindsight, relocating to Hartford is something we should have done years ago.''

All content herein is ) 1998 Globe Newspaper Company and may not be republished without permission. If you have questions or comments about the archives, please contact us at any time.


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