By Bob Seay
FOXBORO, Mass. — Heading south down Route One from Boston, you can see the effects of the Great Recession: Lots of vacant storefronts, and corporate buildings for sale or lease.
But when you cross over the line to Foxboro, it changes. You see it emerging on your left: Gillette Stadium, a massive structure, always looking larger than you think it will if you’ve only seen it on TV. It’s the home of the New England Patriots, one of the most successful franchises in the NFL, and has been an engine of growth despite the recession. But hosting the Patriots also means hosting the recklessness and drinking that can come with big games — and living with the instability that’s currently dominating NFL negotiations.
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A touchdown for Foxboro
Kevin Paicos, the new town manager for Foxboro, says he has a couple million reasons to be a Pats fan. Take the Patriots’ loss to the Jets before the playoffs last January hurt fans all over New England, but it also stung Foxboro’s bottom line.
“That playoff game that cost Foxboro about $100,000 or $150,000,” Paicos said. “I used to root for the Pats — now I really, really root for the Pats!”
Paicos says the town receives around $2 million per year from the Patriots. $1.25 million and a is guaranteed and goes directly into the town’s operating budget, accounting for about 2% of the town’s total budget.
But even more money comes from special events like concerts or playoff games at the stadium -- not to mention the meals sales and room taxes and the money made by the hundreds of people employed in and around the stadium.
But a dispute between the NFL team owners and its players’ union is a stark reminder of the that Foxboro can’t necessarily depend on this income. A breakdown in negotiations and now has led to the possibility of a players’ strike.
If that happens, Paicos says, Foxboro would still get a guaranteed minimum from the Patriots. “But we would effectively wipe out capital spending for that year. Now, that’s not a good thing for as you know capital stuff is building maintenance, vehicle maintenance, road maintenance, bridge maintenance, those things don’t get cheaper if you don’t do ‘em,” Paicos said.
So if there’s a players strike this year, costs could go up next year.
A looming lockout
Long-term Foxboro resident and fiscal watchdog Dick Hydecker thinks the impact would be more serious if there were no NFL season next year. “Up and down the line there’s going to be a major impact,” Hydecker said, saying class size, the fire department and police services could all be affected if the Pats stopped playing.
The eight or nine home games played at Gillette every season are a boon for the town, Hydecker said. “Most people, because of the money and the jobs what have you, say it’s a good thing for Foxboro — if we have a lockout, God help us,” Hydecker said.
But he admits the presence of Gillette and Patriot Place isn’t all fun and, well, games.
“We also get the negative side of the whole issue... the drunk arrests... the other problems with some of the concerts that are up there,” Hydecker said.
Paicos said that concern led Foxboro’s Town Meeting to adopt a $200 fine for those taken into protective custody for being intoxicated — a number that could top 1,000 people this year alone. Patriot Place, he said, is getting more violent.
“(The number of people we take into protective custody) is jumping by 20 to 25% a year, which is probably related in a lot of ways to the economy,” Paicos said. “ While the same number of people are going to the football games and to the concerts, a lot more people are finding it inexpensive entertainment to tailgate and so we have people tailgating who aren’t even going to the venue.”
The legacy of the Patriots
Still, the centerpiece of this complex is sports, the Hall at Patriot Place. There, using a multitude of interactive touch screen exhibits one can learn all about the Patriots and its ultra-entrepreneurial owner, Robert Kraft.
“This is my home town and I just believe this home town wouldn’t be the same if this team had left here,” Kraft once said.
He’s right. Foxboro will forever be known as the home of the Patriots.
And although servicing such a large, high-profile organization can be a burden for a small town, there are very few residents, especially in this recession, who would have them be anywhere else.
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