BOSTON -- Business leaders who want to keep the New England Patriots in Massachusetts met Friday with state officials to talk about retaining the team.
Paul Kirk, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, led a delegation that included NFL officials.
Kirk said he felt "optimistic" after meetings with Gov. Paul Cellucci, House Speaker Thomas Finneran and Senate President Thomas Birmingham.
"We just went into the huddle. We're going to call the plays and start all over again," he said.
Kirk said Finneran, who blocked the Patriots' Massachusetts stadium plans last year, "didn't appear to be an obstacle" to new proposals.
"He said he's perfectly open and willing to listen," Kirk said.
The Patriots have a $374 million stadium deal in Hartford.
But the team is anxious to get going on the stadium project. And questions have been raised about whether the site will be ready because of contaminated soil and an energy company on the site that needs to be relocated.
"We believe that if New England's capital city rallies quickly to the cause, the NFL can encourage the Patriots to make Massachusetts their permanent home," Kirk and five other prominent figures said in an op-ed piece Friday in The Boston Globe.
The article's other signers were former U.S. Attorney and now Bell Atlantic executive Wayne Budd; industrialist William F. Connell; advertising executive John J. Connors Jr.; Boston Edison Co. Chairman Thomas J. May, and Rev. J. Donald Monan, the chancellor of Boston College.
Next month, theNFL will consider Patriots owner Robert Kraft's plan to move the team from its current home in Foxboro to Hartford although a final decision by the league is a long way off.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has mixed feelings about the Patriots' move to Connecticut.
While acknowledging the generous Connecticut deal made sense for Kraft, Aiello said Tagliabue also was "concerned about the Boston area and said we are much better off with continuity with our fans and with our teams centered in major metropolitan areas."
Patriots' spokesman Don Lowery said the team declined comment because of its agreement with the state of Connecticut, "which requires us to deal exclusively with them in this process."
Finneran, expressing concerns that the state shouldn't pay too much to help the team, last year blocked the passage of a $72 million bill that had the support of the team, the state Senate and Cellucci.
The next thing Massachusetts officials knew, Kraft was signing a deal with officials in Connecticut.
Dean Pagani, spokesman for Connecticut Gov. John Rowland, said, "This business group is, of course, free to pursue this path, but the fact of the matter is the Patriots have a contract with Connecticut. Both the state and the Patriots are working towards having a stadium ready by 2002."
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