The 1990s was a decade of great change for the New England Patriots, but it could have been so much more.
Six years after buying their home, Foxboro Stadium, for $22 million, Robert Kraft took ownership of the Patriots in 1994 for a then-record-breaking $172 million.
Now that he was in control of the franchise and his homeland, Kraft had some work to do to rehabilitate a team that hadn’t enjoyed a successful season since 1988.
Another problem the team faced was the condition of their stadium.
Foxboro originally opened in 1971, it was past its sell-by date, and the Patriots needed a home befitting the NFL’s new era.
Accordingly, agreements were discussed with both South Boston and Rhode Island, but not concluded Today in Connecticut history.
But in 1998, it was a riverfront lot in Hartford, Connecticut that almost came to fruition.
The city, and Gov. John Rowland in particular, wanted to rejuvenate downtown with a convention center, shops and a hotel, they say sports illustrated.
With a budget of around $1 billion, the Patriots could have been the crown jewel.
Her offer to Kraft was simple: Come to Connecticut and we’ll foot the bill for a $374 million, 68,000-seat stadium.
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As if that weren’t enough, the offer stipulated that the remaining money from that stadium fund (if it went under budget) would go to the Patriots.
In addition, unsold luxury suits would also be bought up by the state, which also “covers any losses it has incurred through local sponsorship deals as a result of participating in a smaller market”.
That honey-dipped deal was too sweet to turn down, especially considering a previous deal to stay in Massachusetts fell through thanks to opposition from the House of Representatives.
“Massachusetts has had over 35 years to resolve this issue but has not been able to do it,” Kraft said, according to the report The New York Times.
“Some of you might feel uncomfortable about this move,” he added, “We didn’t have an opportunity to resolve our issue in the short term.”
“If the city of Hartford and the people of this state hadn’t gotten together and dreamed this up, our family would have to put this team up for sale.”
The fact was simple: The Patriots needed a new home, and Connecticut offered them the honey, the bees, and even cash for more honey.
In February 1999, Kraft signed on the dotted line.
The deal would also have proved beneficial for college football fans, as the University of Connecticut would have named the new stadium that as well Connecticut Economic Digest.
However, according to SI, a steam power plant got in the way of their preferred location.
So the state was in a race to negotiate a move-out deal with its owners before they could figure out when the land would be suitable for development after more than three decades of pollution from the power plant.
Meanwhile, in the background, negotiations continued again for a possible new home in Massachusetts.
Finally, just two days before the exit deadline, Kraft announced they would remain in New England after agreeing on a new stadium next to their original home.
According to SI, the prospect of moving the steam power plant and the associated problems were “largely to blame”.
In a letter, via Patriots.comKraft told Governor Rowlett, “We know you and your staff have worked tirelessly to pull this deal off the ground, but the scope of this project was clearly a massive undertaking and far more complex than anyone anticipated when we began our discussions .”
“We know that you have made every effort to meet the deadlines you have controlled, but it has come to our attention that the goal of playing in a new stadium in Hartford by 2002 is fraught with significant uncertainties.”
“When we originally announced our intention to play in Hartford, we discussed a kickoff in 2001, but as of this writing, the most likely Hartford kickoff is now 2003, five seasons from now.”
As for Governor Rowlett and the state of Connecticut, they got balls in their faces.
As consumer advocate Ralph Nader said The New York Times after the 1999 announcement: “A government needs to know what it’s doing and who it’s dealing with, and Connecticut has shown that it knew neither.”
“Bob Kraft used Connecticut against Massachusetts, and then when Massachusetts came along he threw the deal in the river.”
Reflecting on the decision, Kraft reportedly said: ESPN: “People don’t understand that. I deviated from the present value of $1.2 billion.”
“There was no risk for me. No debt. If I had done it, I would have been a lot richer without any financial risk.”
“It wouldn’t have been like the Boston Braves moving to Milwaukee.
“Our stadium would have been an hour and 15 minutes away by car from here.
“Most people who come and drive the tailgate drive that far anyway. But it didn’t feel right, so we didn’t do it.”
Gillette Stadium was eventually built at a cost of $325 million and opened in 2002.
Twenty years later, the Kraft family announced They invested an additional $225 million in major renovations at the stadium ahead of the 2023 NFL season.
In Hartford, the downtown developments were accomplished except for the stadium.
The steam power plant remains in its place.