Patriots stadium plans threatened
By Tina Cassidy and Leonard Felson, Globe Staff and Globe Correspondent, 03/18/99
HARTFORD - Connecticut Governor John G. Rowland is threatening to tear down the steam plant on the proposed site of the New England Patriots stadium here because negotiations to move the plant voluntarily are at an impasse.
Visibly frustrated at a news conference in his Capitol office yesterday, Rowland also backed away from the prospect of meeting the April 2 deadline when the state must convince team owner Robert Kraft that the plant can be moved in time to start construction of the stadium in the summer of 2000. Under his agreement with the state, Kraft can back out of the $375 million deal if the deadline is not met.
Rowland's remarks were the strongest indication so far that the Patriots' move to Hartford could be derailed despite his administration's determination to lure the team from Foxborough.
''We're in worse shape now in negotiations than we were when we began,'' was Rowland's bleak assessment.
Kraft, reached at the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix, declined to say what would happen if the state failed to make the deadline. ''We'll have to see what happens in April,'' he said.
If there is no resolution, bulldozing the plant appears to be Rowland's only viable alternative, given that no other site in the city has been considered. The governor said he would be required to give the plant's owner about one year's notice before taking the land by eminent domain. He insisted that such a move would not delay the project because legal issues could be handled after the site was cleared.
''The long, drawn-out battle happens after the fact,'' Rowland said.
Despite the setback in Hartford, there was no talk on Beacon Hill yesterday of immediately reviving legislation to keep the team in Massachusetts. But that could change, legislative aides said, if the Connecticut deal collapsed. Last year, the Senate earmarked about $70 million of public money to help Kraft build a new stadium in Foxborough, while the House approved about $50 million to assist in renovating the existing Foxboro Stadium. No compromise was reached and both bills died.
Under Kraft's deal with Connecticut, considered the most lucrative of any NFL stadium accord, the state would build the stadium and give the team a big share of the revenue it generates. In return, Kraft would invest about $75 million for a new hotel, an NFL retail center, and a wellness and fitness center at Adriaen's Landing, a $1 billion development project in Hartford.
Moving the steam plant, which heats and cools many Hartford office buildings, is the key obstacle Rowland needs to overcome to make the Patriots deal a reality.
The seriousness of the problem became apparent last week when talks broke down between CTG Resources Inc., the company that owns the steam plant, and a quasi-public agency trying to relocate the facility. Meanwhile, CTG officials threw environmental engineers off the site.
In an angry letter dated March 9 obtained by the Globe, Rowland's outside mediator told CTG Chief Executive Arthur Marquardt that the company's request for $48.8 million to move just its offices - not including the steam plant - was so expensive that potential financiers dismissed it.
''Apparently, after a review of the cost of the relocation, two potential corporate sponsors and two banks have indicated that $48.8 million is far in excess of the amount that could reasonably commit to the project,'' mediator Richard Gray wrote. ''The maximum amount that could be raised for the relocation of the Administration and Operations building is in the $25 million range.''
Neither side spoke again until Tuesday, when Rowland personally appealed to Marquardt, calling the executive to his office to break the stalemate. That meeting produced no deal.
Still reeling yesterday, Rowland said CTG's corporate facility on the site was worth between $12 million and $15 million and the plant was valued at about $40 million. The cost to clean up the contaminated location along the Connecticut River is close to $25 million, he said.
Asked if CTG was being greedy, the governor said, ''I'd like to believe they have a lot of smart investment attorneys around them who are saying, `Hey, let's go for the gold.' I'm saying don't go for the gold. You can go for the bronze or the silver.''
During his meeting with Marquardt, a source said Rowland fumed about the engineers being ushered off the site, part of the long-planned $1 billion downtown revitalization project.
''CTG started out as a partner over the last year or so. They've been to the bill signing, the ribbon cuttings, the press announcements ...and everything that's gone on over the last two years was done with the full support of CTG, fully knowing and understanding that that was the location and that was the site.''
No other location is being considered, Rowland added.
With the April 2 deadline looming, the governor asked Gray to go back to the table as soon as today with Marquardt, who, in turn, reportedly promised to allow engineers back on the site.
Marquardt could not be reached for comment and a CTG spokesman did not return calls.
However, Rowland's spokesman, Dean Pagani, tried to inject a sense of flexibility with the April 2 deadline.
''Almost every milestone in this project has gone right down to the wire or beyond,'' Pagani said. ''It's not as if the deal has to be completely done ... it's just a status report'' that must be given to the Patriots.
But the detailed development agreement between Kraft and the state says in no uncertain terms that if the team is not convinced that the site can be cleared in time for construction to begin by the summer of 2000, the Patriots can walk away.
This article was written by Cassidy, with reporting by Felson in Hartford and Globe sports writer Ron Borges in Phoenix.
This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 03/18/99.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.