How Kraft's Mass. dream fizzled
By Scot Lehigh and Tina Cassidy, Globe Staff, 12/16/98
Two dates stand out
Behind locked doors in the basement of BankBoston's downtown
headquarters, the suite of rooms sits like a secret vault preserving dreams of
what might have been.
One enters over mahogany floors, walks along silk-hung walls, and smells
the faint hint of new leather club chairs. A sparkling granite bar flanks one
wall, a panel of large-screen TVs fills another.
But what draws the eye is this colorful sight: six rows of blue stadium
seats, ten per row, facing a huge blowup of a New England Patriots game in
which players are frozen in gridiron glory. Overhead, stereo speakers pipe in
the voice of Gil Santos doing play-by-play as the crowd roars in the
In 1996, Patriots owner Robert Kraft spent more than $1 million to build
this subterranean section to help sell clients on the club seats for his
proposed stadium in South Boston. During his doomed quest, Kraft was host to a
half-dozen community groups in the plush suite, hoping he could bring
opponents around to the advantages of his stadium plan. Build it, and they
will succumb, he seemed to think.
But with last night's approval by the Connecticut General Assembly of the
deal to move the Patriots to Hartford, the mockup stands as a mausoleum for
Kraft's dream. Even now, with the South Boston plan almost two years dead, the
Krafts haven't quite been able to give up on the fantasy. They still pay more
than $100,000 a year to maintain the BankBoston rooms.
``This is just one of the testaments to our work; this was our vision,''
Kraft's son Jonathan said recently on a tour of the site. ``I just hope it
comes across how much effort we put in. It wasn't a fool's errand. We wanted
to spend our own money and keep the team here.''
It was an effort that began with the state's grand plans for a Boston
Megaplex, which morphed to ever-more ambitious schemes for a South Boston
stadium, and then dwindled to shrunken hopes for a renovated home in
Foxborough or a new facility there before ending in bitterness and
recrimination on both sides with the announcement last month that Kraft had
signed a deal to move to Hartford.
Through it all, the Krafts and Beacon Hill policymakers viewed each other
warily across a cultural chasm separating two very different worlds.
The Krafts, seeing themselves as community heroes who had saved the
Patriots for Massachusetts, still can't understand why state politicians never
turned their rhetoric into reality.
The family found that even more perplexing because Kraft was willing to
pay for a $200 million stadium himself, asking state help only for
infrastructure, while other National Football League teams were receiving huge
taxpayer funding for their facilities.
They aren't the only ones perplexed by what often appears to be the
state's politically balkanized, can't-do climate.
``Massachusetts would never offer the kind of expensive deal that
Connecticut did to keep the team, but the point is, we didn't have to,'' said
US Rep. Martin T. Meehan. ``We had several proposals for a privately financed
stadium.'' Still, a particularly Boston blend of problems would combine to
doom the stadium plans -- and cost Massachusetts its NFL franchise, along with
the associated prestige and the millions of dollars in annual tax revenue it
With the Patriots long ensconced outside of Boston, the capital city's
business and civic leaders felt no strong connection to the franchise. Its
political community was always divided about the appropriate site for a
stadium and about how much state aid to contribute, while voters themselves
were seemingly indifferent to the fate of the team. Ironically, in a city and
a region that has long been seen as passionate about politics and sports,
politics was instrumental in killing a major sport.
But if politicians and businessmen were ambivalent about a new stadium
for the Patriots, Kraft had high expectations when state officials asked him
to be part of the Megaplex and, later, when former Gov. William F. Weld
suggested he build a stand-alone facility on state land in South Boston.
``We had been led to believe that if we bought the team, that it would
get done,'' said Jonathan Kraft, citing Weld's words.
But no one should have taken that as an ironclad guarantee, said House
Speaker Thomas M. Finneran.
``You can feel sympathy. But at the same time there's an extraordinary
naivete, which is a kind word for it -- an absence of comprehension of the
steps one should take,'' said Finneran. ``There's no one person who speaks for
As Kraft became exasperated, he turned into his own worst enemy. On Super
Bowl Sunday in 1995, Patriots fans woke to disturbing news. In a Globe
interview, Kraft charged that commitments to help him, made when he was
contemplating purchasing the team, were being reneged on. Saying he had lost
$13 million in his first year owning the Patriots, Kraft seemed to raise the
specter of moving or selling the team.
``I can last like this maybe two or three more years, but if I don't see
something happen in the next six months, I'll have to do some planning,''
On Beacon Hill, even the once-supportive Weld administration came to be
annoyed by a team owner who never seemed satisfied with the state's effort --
and whose demanding demeanor and sharp tongue alienated many who tried to help
Two days stand as stark bookends in the saga of the New England Patriots.
On the most recent date, Nov. 19, 1998, Kraft stood with Connecticut
Governor John Rowland and, flanked by legislative leaders and businessmen,
announced he would relocate his football team to Hartford. Rapid reverse to
Feb. 25, 1994. On that day, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Weld joined
Kraft at Quincy Market for an appreciation ceremony. Weld was delighted by
Kraft's decision to buy the team for $170 million and keep the franchise here.
Menino told the grateful crowd that within several years, the team would be
playing in Boston.
Between the two events would come three frustrating attempts to find an
in-state home for the team, an effort spread across two changes of legislative
leadership, a mayoral election during which Menino did not want to squander
votes in South Boston, and a US Senate election that distracted Weld.
But that day at Quincy Market, the award seemed appropriate. Kraft
appeared less the hard-bargaining NFL mogul than a local white knight who had
brushed aside bottom-line concerns to stop the Patriots from moving to St.
Louis, in the process sparing Boston and the region a blow to their civic
But the realities of operating in the NFL would soon hit home to the
Krafts. In a recent interview, Jonathan, who does much of the public speaking
for his family and who has spearheaded the stadium projects for his father,
said it quickly became apparent that to afford top-flight players, the
Patriots needed a stadium that would let them tap revenues other NFL
The first attempt to find a new home flowed from Weld's invitation to the
Patriots to be part of a proposed Boston megaplex, consisting of a convention
center and domed stadium. By most accounts, the Krafts were initially
skeptical, but later agreed, thinking it was what policy-makers wanted.
It was and it wasn't. If Weld had an edifice complex, there were signals
from the start that the Legislature was skeptical. Only a year or so before,
legislation needed to clear the way for a new Boston Garden had gotten snagged
on Beacon Hill, passing only after a protracted struggle.
During that battle, Finneran, then chairman of the House Ways and Means
Committee, had attracted headlines with a blunt challenge to Garden owner
Jeremy Jacobs: If he didn't like the deal the Legislature was offering, ``I
invite him to walk.''
That was a portent of things to come.
House Speaker Charles Flaherty seemed no more enthusiastic about a
megaplex; ironically, Kraft's purchase of the team -- reducing the threat the
Patriots would leave -- had lessened the urgency for it. ``There were just
too many problems to it,'' Flaherty said in a recent interview. ``The money
didn't make any sense, the financing didn't make any sense, and the site
didn't make any sense.''
No go in South Boston
The next attempt -- a free-standing South Boston stadium -- would fail in the
face of community opposition. Policy-makers said Kraft should pay for the $185
million stadium himself. He agreed.
In late 1996, Weld and Stephen Tocco, then executive director of the
Massachusetts Port Authority, secretly guided Kraft to a mostly vacant parcel
on the Reserve Channel owned by the agency. Kraft, by then hooked on the
vision of building a stadium in Boston, had his architects design a
state-of-the-art facility and began work on the BankBoston showcase to sell
the luxury suites.
Keep it quiet, was the word from Weld and Tocco. When they had a concrete
proposal, that would be the time to inform the community and its leaders. But
when news of the plan leaked in December of 1996, it took not only South
Boston but also most of its politicians by surprise.
``Was it the right tactic? It didn't work, so certainly there was room
for improvement,'' Tocco said. ``We wanted to make sure we had a deal first.''
BankBoston chairman Charles Gifford said press negativity did not help,
``I think the Boston press is more negative and critical than any I've
ever seen,'' said Gifford, a friend of Kraft's. But, he conceded, ``We went
too far with others before going to [Mayor Menino and the community]. There
were great tactical mistakes made on the part of people involved, including
One fact stands as a metaphor for just how badly the South Boston stadium
effort was bungled: Menino says he first learned of the plan when he heard
some business leaders had met with Kraft at BankBoston.
``I was taken aback by it,'' said Menino. ``I just don't think he [Robert
Kraft] was listening. I don't think he was flexible. And he just didn't do his
homework'' in the community.
Jonathan Kraft said Weld had assured them he would take care of all the
political spadework necessary to sell the plan.
``Bill Weld basically led us to believe Tom Menino, as an elected
official, was his responsibility,'' the younger Kraft recalled. ``He said,
`You guys work on putting a plan together. I will deal with the mayor.' ''
But that clearly didn't happen. Tocco says the administration was still
forming its plan when the word broke, catching everyone off guard. The news
helped galvanize neighborhood opposition. A convention center, not a stadium,
was Menino's priority. Moreover, with South Boston as riled as it had been
about anything since busing, and his own reelection approaching, the mayor was
hardly eager to go to bat for Kraft.
But there was another reason as well, according to several well-placed
sources. ``When Kraft didn't get everything he wanted [from Menino] in five
minutes, he goes around town saying that `this guy's elevator doesn't go all
the way to the top floor,' '' one source said. ``That took about one minute to
get back to Menino. That, as much as any other thing, I believe was
responsible for Menino not lifting a finger in South Boston.''
Jonathan Kraft strongly denies this, saying, ``I've only heard my father
speak about the mayor in respectful tones. But when it came to the stadium
situation it was always curious why he didn't want a privately funded stadium
in his city.''
But Menino wasn't the only one growing exasperated with Kraft. Inside the
administration, some of Weld's top aides, who already felt the governor was
expending too much political capital trying to help Kraft, were put off by the
owner's demanding ways. When he called, he expected Weld to take his calls.
And when the governor didn't, Kraft treated staffers brusquely.
``He thought he should be dealing with the governor directly, and he
made that clear to people on the governor's staff,'' said Ray Howell, Weld's
former director of communications and a close adviser.
Administration sources say several top officials had confrontations with
Jonathan Kraft, whom they considered accusatory and overbearing.
At one meeting, Jonathan accused Transportation Secretary James
Kerasiotes of not having done enough to help. Kerasiotes, who was overseeing
$40 million in infrastructure and transit improvements designed to help make
Foxboro Stadium workable, bluntly challenged him on what hadn't been done.
When Kraft whipped out a cellular phone to call Patriots business manager
Andy Wasynczuk, Kerasiotes replied: ``What's the matter, Jonathan, you need
Andy to come up and hold your hand?'' Kerasiotes then walked out of the
Sources said Administration and Finance Secretary Charles Baker had a
similar blowup, warning the younger Kraft to stop badmouthing Weld. Baker
declined comment. ``We were all under tremendous pressure from the governor
to try to accommodate the needs of the team, and when we were told over and
over again that we weren't doing that, and that the governor and the
administration weren't following through, it got a little hard to take,'' said
Political know-how lacking
Nor did the Krafts understand the careful preparation and attention it takes
to get things done with the Legislature.
``I think for Kraft it was a whole new arena he had never been involved
in before,'' said Flaherty. ``He didn't know the players, and he couldn't
understand why everybody wasn't laying out the red carpet for him because he
had `saved the team.' ''
Thomas Joyce, a Beacon Hill lobbyist who worked for Kraft during the
Megaplex discussions and parted with him on strained terms, said Kraft made a
``I think in Robert's case, he tried to deal with political leaders like
they were members of his board of directors,'' Joyce said, adding that Kraft
would have been more successful if he accepted political advice. ``Robert
wouldn't leave the room until he had a commitment. . . . I have never asked
for a commitment from a government official. I have asked for consideration.''
Admitted Jonathan Kraft: ``We are politically naive. But from our
perspective, if you're going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars of your
own money, you'd think they'd cut you a little slack.''
While Robert Kraft did deal successfully with Governor Rowland in
Connecticut, he grew to annoy Weld, who prided himself on his
imperturbability. Several sources said that after one Weld fund-raiser, Kraft,
uninvited, hopped into the governor's car and began to unroll a set of stadium
plans to explain them to Weld.
``It was typical of Kraft,'' said one source. ``He thought he should be
able to deal with Weld whenever he wanted to.''
Weld thought otherwise. Irritated by what he considered an inappropriate
intrusion, the governor made it clear he didn't have time for Kraft, sources
say. Weld says he can't recall the incident.
Kraft was clearly bitter. In February 1997, when US Rep. Joseph Moakley
finally talked him into abandoning his South Boston hopes, Moakley suggested a
press conference with Kraft, Menino, Weld, and himself.
Moakley still remembers his response: ``He said, `No, I have dealt with
all of those people before. I was misled, and I don't want any of them there
when I make my statement.' . . . He was very upset.''
Some administration officials insist that above all else, it was the
Krafts' personal style that impeded their efforts with top decision-makers.
``It's very simple,'' said one top-level official. ``There are two
reasons why this didn't get done. Reason Number One is that Tom Menino hates
Bob Kraft. Reason Number Two is that Tom Finneran hates Bob Kraft.''
Owner vs. Speaker
Despite being stymied in South Boston, Kraft wasn't ready to give up. Thus,
the stadium struggle entered its third and final phase, where Kraft's requests
for state help collided squarely with Finneran's insistence that state funds
not be used to pay for land for private businesses.
When Finneran said in February of 1997 that building a 71,000-seat
stadium in Foxborough would be ``the easiest deal in the world,'' the Krafts
were once again hopeful.
But when Weld resigned in July of that year, Kraft lost his principal
ally in state government.
Although Acting Governor Paul Cellucci pushed a Patriots plan, several
sources say that Cellucci was less willing to push a bill for infrastructure
improvements in Foxborough when he needed Finneran to help approve
campaign-year tax cuts.
While Cellucci introduced his own $50 million plan for road and other
improvements along Route 1 -- issued as Rhode Island officials were also
wooing the team with offers to pay about half of stadium construction costs --
he made no efforts remotely comparable to Rowland's in Connecticut.
Still, at times a Foxborough deal seemed tantalizingly close. In
February, Senate President Thomas Birmingham negotiated what in retrospect
looks like a very good deal: For a net state cost of $2.3 million a year over
20 years, Kraft would have built a new $200 million stadium, and the state
would have spent $72 million on land and infrastructure.
One Democratic legislator says that package, costing only about $100,000
more a year than the deal Finneran had offered calling for $52 million in
infrastructure spending, would have passed if put to a secret ballot. But
Finneran refused to budge. Meanwhile, his references to Kraft as ``a whining
multi-millionaire'' and a ``fat-assed millionaire'' -- a comment Finneran says
was directed at Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell -- only underscored
speculation about a personal grudge. According to that theory, Finneran was
determined to thwart Kraft because the owner's wife, Myra, was an ally of
Richard Voke, whom Finneran defeated to become speaker.
But while Finneran pleads guilty to being an inner-city ``street-corner
kid'' who sometimes ``fires back with a wise comment,'' he denies any personal
animus against Kraft, noting that he maintained the same posture toward other
private concerns in the past.
Finneran also claims he was willing to work a fair deal all along, but he
resolutely refuses to go along with the state acquiring land for a private
enterprise, saying the precedent is just too dangerous -- even if it means
losing Boston's professional sports teams.
Stripped down, the fundamentally different world views of Finneran and
the Krafts are best described this way: Finneran says that the deal the House
proposed was the most generous subsidy package the state has ever offered a
single private concern. But Jonathan Kraft notes that the package was one of
the least generous offered any NFL owner during the last four years.
In the end, it was that irreconcilable difference that made the Krafts
decide to look elsewhere. Finneran said he has only two real regrets. One
is making his ``whining multi-millionaire'' jibe. The other, he said, was in
believing Kraft really wanted to keep the team in Massachusetts in the first
``It is about nothing but money,'' said Finneran. ``Expressions of
loyalty to Massachusetts, affection for the fans . . . is propaganda.''
But in the basement of BankBoston, where Jonathan Kraft sits in a stadium
model that now mocks the family's failed hopes for a new facility in
Massachusetts, the perspective is very different:
``I'm personally disappointed because I really wanted this to happen for my
dad -- in Massachusetts. I personally feel like I failed and I didn't get it
done. But I wonder what else we could have done. I wonder. . . .''
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