August 22, 2012

Kraft Group And Foxborough See Mutual Interests In New Expansion

With a controversial casino proposal in the rear-view mirror, The Kraft Group, owner of the New England Patriots, is eying a new venture to encourage greater patronage at its Route 1 lifestyle shopping center, Patriot Place.

Kevin Weinfeld, chairman of the Planning Board and a member of a committee designed to facilitate communication between town boards and The Kraft Group, said the proposal is a sign that, after months of tension garnered by casino talk, the discourse between the town and its largest taxpayer is back on track.

Not An Easy Sell

While there's clearly a financial benefit to the town in the form of tax revenue under the new proposal, Weinfeld said the Kraft Group's wish list includes items that require voter approval—and some aspects might not sell easily.

Representatives from The Kraft Group have met with the town's Kraft Organization Committee three times in recent weeks to discuss their development desires, which include zoning changes to allow residential development near Patriot Place and more flexible commercial use, as well as the acquisition of eight new liquor licenses to support business at new restaurants and hotels.

Kraft representatives have also mentioned adding a bowling facility, new hotels, and possibly a commuter rail line to facilitate transportation between Boston and Patriot Place.

The Kraft Group's needs were detailed in a draft memorandum of understanding created by the company and submitted to the Kraft Organization Committee at a recent meeting, though a formal proposal for development has not been submitted.

Ted Fire, vice president of construction and development for The Kraft Group, said though the company has discussed plans for expansion in greater detail recently, they've been considering how to increase the footprint of the Patriot Place complex—and develop land on the other side of Route 1—for years.

Fire declined to name restaurants and hotels The Kraft Group is in talks with, but said there are real opportunities to increase dining, entertainment and hospitality offerings in the vicinity. Though the focus is on those types of business, Fire said retail shopping remains an important part of Patriot Place.

"We don't want to be known just as the dining and entertainment hub; that just happens to be one of our strengths," Fire said.

Multifamily Housing May Cause Controversy

A plan to build hundreds of condominium units—Weinfeld said numbers between 300 and 500 have been discussed--on Kraft-owned land near the stadium that backs up to residential neighborhoods, might meet opposition from longtime residents. Multifamily housing in that area is not allowed under existing zoning laws.

"That's a big change," Weinfeld said. "It will be controversial because (there are) people who are living in those single-family homes that will be hard up against those changes and I'm sure they'll have a point of view."

Whether Foxborough needs eight new, full-pour liquor licenses, as Kraft officials would like, is also debatable. The town would have to petition the state Legislature for them, as all of Foxborough's liquor licenses are currently in use. Downtown businesses that serve alcohol could be affected by the competition, Weinfeld said.

Aside from increased tax revenue generated by Kraft development, Foxborough stands to gain financial support for a new, multi-town sewer services agreement it might not be able to afford otherwise.

The Krafts in their MOU stated they would contribute $300,000 annually for 25 years to pay for the agreement with the Mansfield/Norton Wastewater Treatment Plant to accommodate increased sewer flow.

The town is just beginning to consider the Kraft group's wants, and in the end, the proposal could change to accommodate town needs, Weinfeld said.

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