Massachusetts has begun the official process of getting public funding for a new football stadium for the New England Patriots, but the team's owner said he is exploring other options, including moving the troubled franchise out of state.
Gov. William Weld introduced legislation in his statehouse yesterday that would authorize a $700 million combined domed football stadium/convention center in Boston. Similar to one being built in St. Louis, the facility would seat 70,000 fans and house 630,000 square feet of exhibition space, easing the city's shortage of convention space.
Patriots owner James Busch Orthwein pledged to Weld in May that the team would sign a 30-year lease on a stadium if the necessary funding legislation was enacted before lawmakers recessed for the summer. But the lawmakers are heading home today, and the measure will not be acted upon until after Labor Day.
"I believe Mr. Orthwein is now free to consider all his options," said
Walter Metcalfe, an attorney for the St. Louis-based team owner.
Kevin Kutz, a spokesman for the commonwealth, said: "We're trying to go at our own pace. It was a self-imposed deadline imposed by him."
If necessary, the state would move ahead with the project without the Patriots, he said.
Orthwein is also the lead investor in the effort to obtain an expansion franchise for his hometown of St. Louis. That city is competing with Baltimore, Charlotte, N.C., and Memphis, Tenn., for one of two teams to be awarded in October.
He bought the money-losing Patriots last year to protect a loan he had made to a former owner, Fran Murray Jr., and has said he intends to resell the franchise as soon as he can stabilize it.
The Patriots are hobbled by a long-term lease at Foxboro Stadium. The facility is a 45-minute drive from Boston and is owned by developers who keep all the concession, parking, sky box and advertising revenue that other team owners often get. And the stadium, built in 1972, lacks such basic fan comforts as backs on the seats.
Metcalfe said yesterday that Orthwein had not seen the legislation before its submission, but would study it and consider it along with alternatives he declined to specify.
"There's no magic list of what the options are," he said. Their first choice remains to arrange for a new stadium and sell the team to someone in Boston, he said.
Among the other widely discussed possibilities: Orthwein moves the team to St. Louis instead of waiting for an expansion franchise, greatly enhancing Baltimore's expansion prospects, or sells it to someone in a city with a new stadium, such as Baltimore.
Another offer has come from Murray, the former team co-owner, who says he is putting together an offer to buy the team and move it 100 miles away, to a stadium to be built in the neighboring state of Connecticut.
League officials say they would prefer a team in Boston.
Metcalfe said the group has received inquiries from other prospective buyers, but none based in Baltimore yet.
"Obviously Baltimore is an East Coast site as is Massachusetts, and obviously Baltimore has proven its ability to host a team," Metcalfe said.
Under Weld's legislation, the stadium would be opened in 1998 and paid for through bonds, water-based gaming revenues, hotel-motel taxes and a Patriots lease that would cover the cost of games.