The New England Patriots Thursday signed a tentative deal to move from suburban Boston to Hartford in what would be the fifth NFL franchise to shift cities in three years.
The memorandum of understanding grants Hartford the exclusive right to negotiate with the Patriots until Dec. 31. It puts $2 million of the Patriots' money into escrow and says Hartford would get that money if the team negotiated with anyone else -- including Massachusetts -- before the deadline.
If a set of legislative and economic conditions are met, the Patriots would open the 2001 season in a new stadium in downtown Hartford.
Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland, with Patriots owner Robert Kraft at his side, called the deal the centerpiece of Hartford's recovery from recession and the 1997 loss of its only major-league sports franchise, the NHL's Whalers.
"We want to redefine Hartford's place on the map," Rowland said. "We want to be more than a mile marker between Boston and New York."
The announcement was met with raucous applause from business and legislative leaders.
A special legislative session will be needed to approve some of the financing. The exact amount of state bond authority necessary is not yet clear, in part because of prior approvals for other stadium projects that did not get off the ground.
The deal revolves around a proposed $350 million, 68,000-seat, open-air stadium that would also become the new home of the University of Connecticut, allowing the university's football program to upgrade to Division I-A status.
The stadium would be the centerpiece of a $1 billion downtown redevelopment project called Adriaen's Landing, named for the Dutch explorer who sailed up the Connecticut River in 1614. The sports and entertainment complex also would inclde a hotel, shopping district and other amenities.
| Mayor Mike Peters and the Patriots bring major-league sports back to Hartford. (AP) |
Kraft "believes in what we're doing here in our capital city, and he wants to be a part of it," Rowland said.
Hartford Mayor Michael Peters said he did not think the $2 million was enough to hold Kraft to move the Patriots to Hartford. But he added: "I believe in my heart he wants to come here. It's pretty obvious to me."
The proposed deal would keep the team in Hartford for at least 30 years.
Kraft had been unable to reach an agreement with Massachusetts on a new stadium for the Patriots. He said the stadium in Foxboro, Mass., "is not a stadium for the modern NFL."
"I love the stadium, but it's just not proper for the future," he said.
He was unapologetic for leaving Massachusetts, where the Patriots had played in five different stadiums.
"Massachusetts had over 35 years to resolve these problems," Kraft said.
Kraft said he did not anticipate any difficulty in obtaining approval for the move from other NFL owners, despite Hartford's proximity to the New York metropolitan area.
Since 1995, the NFL has seen four teams change cities: the Rams and Raiders from Los Angeles to St. Louis and Oakland; the Browns from Cleveland to Baltimore; and the Oilers from Houston to Tennessee. The league has since decided to put a new team in Cleveland, and is considering an expansion franchise for 2000 or later in either Los Angeles or Houston.
The Adriaen's landing project is to be built near the intersections of Interstates 84 and 91, along the riverfront.
The Connecticut capital has franchises in the American Basketball League, Continental Basketball Association and American Hockey League, and is scheduled to get an arena football team.
The Hartford Civic Center also holds a number of the University of Connecticut men's and women's home basketball games. The rest are played at the campus in Storrs.
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