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
``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
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
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
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
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
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
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