Lost amid the hoopla and histrionics over hosting the Summer Olympics is the fact that Robert Kraft might finally get to build a stadium in Boston.
Kraft and Mayor Martin J. Walsh have been talking steadily about a soccer stadium for the New England Revolution. The two have met several times, at City Hall and at Patriots games in Foxborough, and while they aren’t close to a deal, new details are emerging about the proposal.
One scenario Kraft has floated with City Hall is having Boston build and own a $200 million soccer stadium, according to a person close to the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks are ongoing. The debt would be repaid by a tax charged on tickets.
The advantage to Kraft is that the city can borrow money at lower interest rates than a business. The owner of the Revolution and New England Patriots is assuring city officials that he would structure the deal so Boston would not be at risk for any cost of the building, according to a second person with knowledge of the talks.
But the Walsh administration has not warmed to the idea of using public funds to build a sports arena. Such an arrangement is even more unlikely given that the mayor has been trumpeting how public financing would not be used for the Summer Games, except for infrastructure improvements.
Government backing of stadiums has been used in other states, but not in Massachusetts. Typically, public aid here comes in the form of public works upgrades, such as fixing roads and offering tax breaks for creating jobs.
Walsh said it’s too early to talk about whether the city would hand out incentives for Kraft’s project.
“It’s really an idea right now,” Walsh told me.
Victor Matheson, an economics professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, said taxpayers have borne half of the total construction costs of Major League Soccer stadiums over the past decade.
Kraft, said Matheson, “would be crazy not to” ask for similar help. “The worst that is going to happen is that the taxpayers say no,” he said. Or their elected representatives say no.
Still, Matheson, who was once a referee for Major League Soccer, doesn’t advise the city to OK such a deal.
“My heart says, I would love a new stadium for the Revs in an urban setting,” he said. “My brain says no. We don’t see great economic benefit from spending taxpayer money on sports stadiums.”
Even so, Kraft is already on much better terms with Walsh than his predecessor, who famously did not get along with one of the country’s most powerful sports owners. Mayor Thomas M. Menino twice spurned Kraft’s efforts to build a sports venue — first in the late ’90s for a football stadium in South Boston and later for a soccer stadium in Roxbury.
The Revolution plays at Gillette in Foxborough, but the football stadium is considered by fans to be too cavernous for soccer games. Major League Soccer has been moving to “soccer specific” arenas as the sport grows more popular. Revolution president Brian Bilello has said the team would like a stadium that seats between 18,000 and 22,000 fans. The Revolution currently is one of a handful of soccer teams in the country that do not have their own stadiums.
Kraft has been looking for a home for the Revs in the Boston area for years. That they keep talking demonstrates Walsh seems open to the city hosting a soccer stadium.
“It’s certainly something that interests me, and I think it would interest a lot of residents in Boston,” Walsh said.
Just where remains up in the air. The Boston Globe reported last fall that Kraft has been looking at a site off Interstate 93 on Frontage Road, where the city owns a tow yard and public works garage. That South Boston location is next to where Boston 2024 is proposing to build a temporary Olympic stadium at Widett Circle.
Yes readers, it’s understandable to scratch your heads, puzzled at the notion that Boston could have two stadiums next to each other.
At one point, Boston 2024 considered building a 60,000-seat Olympic stadium for the Summer Games that would be later converted into a smaller soccer stadium. That, however, is unlikely to happen because Boston 2024 now appears focused on a venue just for the Olympics and not for soccer.
But Walsh said that area is not the only place for a soccer stadium. “There are potentially other options,” said Walsh. “We have to look at what is the best opportunity for the Revolution.”
Walsh wouldn’t divulge the other locations, but he talked about having the stadium near public transit. The city tow lot is off the MBTA’s Red Line, near the Broadway stop.
Other sites that could come into play include Suffolk Downs, which is off the Blue Line in East Boston, and Parcel 3, which is on Tremont Street in Roxbury across from police headquarters and near the Orange Line.
The owners of Suffolk Downs hoped the money-losing racetrack would be the site of Boston’s only resort casino, but that designation went to Steve Wynn and his Everett site. The owners are working with the city to develop a master plan for Suffolk Downs, which will not remain a horse track.
Kraft had looked at Parcel 3 in 2007, but Menino nixed the idea. His administration was seeking guarantees that the public housing complex next door could be rebuilt elsewhere or incorporated into the site as part of the development.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation is considering moving its headquarters to Parcel 3, also known as Tremont Crossing, but the Baker administration is holding up that relocation. If MassDOT does not move, a soccer stadium could be back in the mix, but it would be difficult to accommodate under the current plan for retail, office, and residential development.
Kraft and Walsh did not know each other until after the mayor was elected. But the billionaire sports owner easily took to the Dorchester politician and union leader: Walsh has been a Pats season ticket holder for two decades. Even as mayor, he still makes it out to many games.
And Kraft showed up at the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast in Southie where he gave a shout out to the mayor for moving mountains of snow for the Pats’s Super Bowl victory parade. “There is no bigger fan than Mayor Marty Walsh,” Kraft told the crowd, with a beaming Walsh next to him.
Now let’s see if he can get the mayor to love soccer as much.
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