In latest push, Kraft eyes soccer stadium in Dorchester
Robert Kraft’s hunt for a new home for the New England Revolution has led him to hold talks about building a soccer stadium in Dorchester at the site of the former Bayside Expo Center, now owned by the University of Massachusetts.
Kraft, who owns both the Revolution and the New England Patriots, has for years wanted to move the Revolution out of Gillette Stadium in Foxborough and into a smaller facility designed for soccer. After considering properties in other parts of Boston, the billionaire has more recently focused on the Bayside site, according to people with knowledge of the discussions.
University officials have been in active discussions with Kraft but do not appear to be close to an agreement, said the people, who asked not to be named because the talks are ongoing.
UMass bought the Bayside Expo for $18.7 million in 2010, after the center went into foreclosure. The university is currently tearing down the exposition hall as part of its plan to expand the UMass Boston campus to that site.
Any deal would likely involve UMass offering a long-term lease for the land and Kraft paying to build the sports complex. A stadium would offer UMass a source of revenue at a time when the university system has nearly reached the limit in its ability to borrow money for major expansions. UMass Boston is also developing a sports management program, which could benefit from access to a professional team.
“The University of Massachusetts is in the process of exploring long-term options for its Bayside property,” spokesman Robert Connolly said. “We’ve worked closely with the Kraft family in the past and have a shared desire to create new opportunities for our students and for the Commonwealth.”
Kraft, in interviews in recent months, reiterated his desire to build a soccer stadium in Boston but did not elaborate on the details. “We would very much like to find a way,” he said. A spokesman for Kraft declined to comment on Tuesday.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who has discussed developing a soccer stadium in Boston with Kraft, remains interested in seeing something built.
“He is open to having a conversation about it,” according to a statement from Walsh’s spokeswoman Laura Oggeri. “It’s important that any discussion about a stadium includes how it can be used as a catalyst for bringing much-needed improvements to any surrounding neighborhoods.”
Major League Soccer has been moving to “soccer specific” arenas as the sport grows more popular, and the Revolution is one of a handful of soccer teams in the country that do not have their own stadiums. Kraft is seeking to build a venue that would accommodate 20,000 to 25,000 fans. Gillette, with close to 67,000 seats, is too big for soccer games, and many seats have to be blocked off.
Concern about traffic is likely to be one of the major obstacles to a stadium plan in Dorchester. While the Bayside site is a short walk from the Red Line’s JFK/UMass Station and is close to Interstate 93, the property has serious transportation challenges, such as parking and a congested rotary near the Bayside center.
It is unresolved who would pay for transportation upgrades, and Kraft and UMass are likely to lean on the state and the city for assurances the problems can be addressed.
US Representative Stephen Lynch, whose district includes South Boston and the Dorchester waterfront, is already worried.
“The situation is getting progressively worse as the South Boston waterfront development has greatly increased the volume of traffic along the Morrissey Boulevard corridor. So basically it’s a bad idea,” Lynch said in a statement.
Kraft has scoured the region for a place to build a stadium, including in Somerville and Revere. In the past two years, the sports mogul has focused on Boston, eyeing a city-owned tow lot and public works garage off of Interstate 93 on Frontage Road in South Boston. At the time, the city was also bidding for the 2024 Summer Games, and a temporary Olympics stadium was being proposed nearby at Widett Circle.
The Kraft family has a longstanding relationship with the University of Massachusetts. Robert Kraft holds a 2007 honorary degree from UMass Boston. His late wife, Myra, served as a trustee from 1994 to 1998, and there is a scholarship fund named in her honor at UMass Lowell. UMass Amherst plays some of its football games at Gillette Stadium, and UMass president Martin T. Meehan is a Patriots season ticket holder.