Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Revolution Stadium Prospect Part 4 - Foxboro Superproject

What do you do if you are Bob Kraft and have just constructed a $300 million entertainment/retail/commercial development next to Gillette Stadium which is dependent on big events? Build a multi-purpose venue that can host a lot more big events, that's what. Incorporate a retractable pitch for the Revolution in a modestly-sized dome and you now have a stadium which could host a wide range of events, some of which this region has never seen. (click title to read more)

Seem too "pie in the sky"? Possibly. It would take a good amount of risk and public funds to pull something like this off. There would also be some political hurdles to overcome. However, there is the potential for substantial economic reward for both the stadium owners and the region. This part will be separated in two. The first segment will deal with the various kinds of events the stadium could host and the effect it would have on other event venues in the area. The second will deal with the engineering problems and some ideas on how to solve them.


Overview



Last December, an attempt to squeeze a cigarette tax through the Ohio legislature during a lame duck session was defeated. If it had passed, the money generated would have been used to build a $180 million retractable roof, retractable field stadium which would have housed a Cleveland MLS expansion team. 100% of that money would have been used for stadium construction as the Wolfstein Group had investors lined up to privately buy the land and build a mixed-use development.

While the deal failed, it did offer a ballpark figure on what a stadium like that would cost (although probably a conservative estimate). It also showed that someone actually figured out how to make a stadium like that work for a cold weather city like Cleveland. As I will discuss later on, there are a few other such stadiums around the world.

For the sake of discussion, assume a stadium with a roof (possibly retractable) and a retractable natural grass field which would hold around 20,000 people for MLS games and up to 40,000 for large events. I'll be getting into the engineering specifics in he next segment, but this wouldn't have to be a mini version of University of Phoenix Stadium. There were actually a few predecessors to the Cardinal's new home around the world in climates very similar to ours.

The one that stands out to me is the Sapporo Dome in Japan. They actually hold both baseball and soccer games in a region that once hosted the winter olympics. They've proven a grass field can be maintained for soccer (the baseball field is artificial) and the engineering obstacles they overcame were far more difficult than what the Krafts would face.

So, it's not impossible to maintain something like that here. Let's talk about what it would mean to the region.


Events

The events such a venue can host range from trade shows to pro wrestling, conventions to concerts. However, let's first talk about the sport of the facility's primary tenant: soccer. Besides Revs games, this would be the only appropriate place to host US National Team games during the winter for literally thousands of miles. Although a fresh surface would probably have to be brought in for games during the dead of winter, the chance to host the Brazilian, Argentinian, or Mexican team once a year would be enough incentive to bring in a pitch for a little over $100k and schedule one or two more friendlies around it. It would also be an ideal place for MLS teams in the northeast to play early CONCACAF Champions Cup games or Copa Libertadores group stage games if the league ever gets invited.

The major target for this facility, and probably the biggest bargaining chip to get something like this done, is the NCAA basketball final four. It has been estimated that the final four has a $40 million economic impact on the region which hosts it. New England has never hosted the Final Four, and never will as long as the Boston Garden is New England's largest basketball facility. This could also be a regular host of the regionals, which has roughly a $10-15 million impact.

Another great idea that would be unique to the region is hosting a college bowl game each year. The capacity could be around 25-30k for such a game, which is a little low for a bowl game. However, seeing the nearest bowl game is in Detroit, that may not be a problem. If they could line up the 2nd or 3rd choice Big East team and the 5th or 6th choice ACC team, they would have a good chance to get a local team or a team who's fans travel well like West Virginia, Georgia Tech, or Virginia Tech.

The Krafts are getting into the convention/trade show hosting business and this would drastically expand their ability to hold a much wider range of events. What they have over Boston and Providence is they can host conventions the week leading up to Patriot games and the attendees who stay in on-site and nearby hotels don't have to worry about transportation to the game. This would raise some political issues in regards to stealing business from those two cities, so the economic benefits of other events would have to be used as a bargaining chip.

The other events it could hold regularly are: year-round concerts (20-40k), NCAA women's final four and hockey frozen four, various NCAA basketball conference tournaments, Massachusetts high school finals for soccer, football, basketball and wrestling, pro wrestling, and rodeo/bull riding. The latter would fit in nicely with the annual country music festival at Gillette held the weekend of the NASCAR race in New Hampshire. On top of those, two other unique and lucrative events this could host are WWE Wrestlemania and the ACC conference tournament.


Political Factors and Funding

As I mentioned, Providence and Boston wouldn't be too thrilled about Foxboro cutting into their convention business. Providence can't really do anything about that. However, Boston could stand in the way in getting state funding, something that would probably be needed. Arrangements would need to be worked out on the state level. An exclusivity agreement with the Boston Convention Center and providing a sweetheart deal to host high school sporting events and community functions could be good enough to satisfy all sides.

With concerts, the Tweeter Center is just a few miles away and wouldn't like their concert business undermined. They could work a deal out to only host large concerts in Foxboro during Great Woods season (preferably at Gillette) and then host concerts in the dome to their heart's content during the colder months.

There's also issues with the town of Foxborough (I do indeed know that's the correct spelling) not wanting to give up it's bedroom town lifestyle. There's a very interesting website for their bargaining angles in the Patriots Place project negotiations. The town seems willing to change, but there's some problems they need to overcome. One of the biggest issues is the town will stand to lose a good portion of their state education money with the rise in property value from the new project. Yeah, they're almost sure to get far more in return from tax collection, but nothing is guaranteed. Even if the money collected equaled the lost aid, change costs money regardless and they would lose out.

The Town of Foxborough police get supplemented with state troopers for Patriot games, but that is only 8-10 times a year. It would be tough to justify doing that 20-30 times a year. One of the solutions mentioned by the town police is establishing a private security force for the man mall. That force could be expanded to patrol more of Gillette Stadium and this project to free up the real police to do their jobs. That could also be cheaper for the Krafts in the long run.

Something that is favorable to this is a lot of the civil engineering improvements are being accomplished for the Patriots Place project, so it wouldn't take a great deal more for another stadium.

As for funding, some state aid would probably be required. At least some of the parking lot would need to be displaced, so either more land would be needed or a parking garage would needed to be built. I'm estimating the absolute lowball figure would be $180 million depending mostly on the type of roof. History shows that most of the funding would be private. However, a project like this would need to involve all levels of Massachussetts government in some way.

Another possibility is that a venue like this may be enough to tip the scales in favor of regular commuter rail access to Foxboro. Access by train to large indoor concerts during the winter could only help the Boston and Providence convention business, not hurt it. The man mall would take a little bit of retail business away from those cities, but there's still drastically more places to shop and dine in those two locations.



That's most of the abstracts involved in this stadium idea. Check back soon as I go into the engineering involved in such a project.

11 Comments:

Peter said...

I see you plan on delving into engineering issues involved in a retractable roof/retractable field stadium in your next blog. While there are always unique problems to overcome in most large construction projects, incorporating motion into a project does indeed add to the complexity of the design and engineering. A moving roof on a stadium has impacts on the structural design from the foundation on up and and controling the motion of a 19 million pound field is a significant challange in itself. For a contractor to try to tackle the issues on there own the results could be disasterous, but with an experienced mechanization consultant/provider on the project team the results are predictable, dependable and cost effective. Multi-purpose facilities such as you describe are the way of the future. Following on the success of other true multi-purpose facilities such as the University of Phoenix Stadium, retractable roofs and retractable fields will be on the minds of developers, owners and architects around the world as they plan their new facilities.

Anonymous said...

The Kraft family are astute business people. Owners of businesses undertake what they think will produce the most return on their investment. Patriot Place is being constructed to make Faoxborough a year-round destination. However, Gillette Stadium is the centerpiece, and the Patriots are the prime attraction.

To maximize the Revolution, Mr. Krafy should strongly consider taking them out of the Patriots and Patriot Place shadow. They need to shine on their own, and the best chance of that is in Providence.

Providence continues to receive excellent press in the Wall Street Journal and other publications. There, the Revs can find an urban environment easily accessible to the surrounding Boston/RI/S.E. Mass. markets, many soccer fans and many people of Italian and Portuguese descents who are knowledgeable about the sport. All while keeping the team local, and providing a venue that not only complements the City of Providence, but also can attact additional events to turn a profit fo rthe Krafts. It's a win-win by any measure.

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