The New' England Patriots may be off to an 0-4 start this season. but that has not soured an attempt by Connecticut to wrest the team away from its Massachusetts home.
Yesterday, Connecticut Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. signed legislation that allows the state to sell $252 million of general obligation bonds to finance the construction of a football stadium for the team in downtown Hartford, the state's capital.
Late Monday night, the state Senate approved the measure by a 25-to-9 vote after the state House of Representatives approved it, 88-to-54, on Monday afternoon.
The bill permits the state to build a 70,000 seat open-air stadium that would be completed by the 1997 National Football League season.
Before the bonds can be sold and construction begun, a group of investors must convince Patriots owner James B. Orthwein to sell the team to Francis Murray, a former co-owner of the Patriots and a Philadelphia-based investor. Also, Murray would have to gain the approval of the NFL and team owners for the purchase before the bonds could be sold. Murray has offered Orthwein $133 million for the Patriots.
Although Hartford may not seem to be big enough to support a professional football team, a recent study by KPMG Peat Marwick says the city and the surrounding area could support the club.
The study, released this summer, says Connecticut's high per-capita income level, the population in the 125-mile radius around Hartford, and the likelihood that the state could easily sell luxury boxes in the stadium all contributed to the favorable report.
That, however, may not be enough to lure the Patriots to Connecticut.
A proposal to build a bond-financed stadium and convention center in downtown Boston is under consideration by the Massachusetts legislature. A group of investors is expected to submit a bid to Orthwein for the Patriots and if it succeeds keep the team in Foxboro.
Orthwein, who bought the club almost two years ago from businessman Victor Kiam, initially wanted to move the club to his hometown of St. Louis. He said recently he would like to keep the team in Massachusetts, if the stadium complex, known as the Massachusetts Sports and Entertainment Convention Center, or Megaplex, is built.
But in Massachusetts, Gov. William F. Weld's proposal to build the Megaplex, for which $700 million of bonds would be sold, has run into stiff opposition in the legislature. The governor, a Republican, was interested in using revenues from floating gambling casinos proposed for Boston Harbor to help offset the cost of building the Megaplex.
The Democratic-controlled legislature said it would not support the measure if the gambling was included. Some lawmakers have expressed concern about an increase in crime if gambling is permitted.
The measure that Weicker signed into law will allow Connecticut to own the stadium and the 25-acre tract on which it would be built. Murray would be designated as the owner and developer.
The legislation entitles the football team to all revenues after paying an annual rent. The rent would start at around $5 million for the 1997 season and grow to about