After nearly three years and no progress on a comprehensive deal between the town of Foxborough and the Kraft Group to expand Patriot Place, the company has decided to walk away from the negotiating table.
“We are unfortunately no closer to a deal than we were three years ago,” said Dan Murphy, vice president of the Kraft Group’s Business Development and External Affairs. … “At this point we don’t want to waste the [Board of Selectmen's] time and don’t want to waste our time and we just don’t see that there is a likely solution so we respectfully ask [the Board of Selectmen] to take no action on the negotiating committee.”
The news comes as a disappointment to those in town who were looking forward to future development at Patriot Place and economic growth in the community.
“The whole thing is an embarrassment to the town,” said Foxborough Patch reader Mike Small on Facebook following the news of the Kraft Group’s decision Tuesday.
Others viewed the Kraft Group’s decision as a missed opportunity for the town.
Said Lois Carver Pavlakis on Facebook: “It is what the town deserves. There could have been so many jobs and increased revenue. Small towns create small minds.”
Murphy cited the two dissolved negotiating committees and the Oct. 16 debate amongst selectmen as to whether the town should even meet with the Kraft Group as reasons for the company’s decision not to pursue further negotiations at this time.
“We spent a lot of time looking at the last meeting on Oct. 16 and realized with that meeting and prior meetings their have been hours of debate at this table whether to meet with us at all, whether it should be an open session, a private session, whether members of the board should be part of it or residents should be part of it and I think what it’s done for us is it has given us a chance to take these last two weeks and pause for a bit and say we are unfortunately no closer to a deal than we were three years ago,” Murphy said.
The Oct. 16 meeting Murphy is referring to is where the Board of Selectmen voted to dissolve the town’s negotiating committee, under the advisement of Town Counsel Richard Gelerman, because that committee was subject to Open Meeting Law.
Gelerman then advised selectmen to appoint Town Manager Kevin Paicos as the negotiator to represent the town at the table with the Kraft Group and he would have the authority to add members to his negotiating team, thus avoiding an Open Meeting Law violation.
Paicos’ committee, presumably, would have included the same members as the ones originally appointed by selectmen in September but some officials did not “feel comfortable” with Gelerman’s advice, balking at the opportunity to move forward.
"I’m unclear on how this change in selection process makes us no longer subject to Open Meeting Law,” said selectman Lorraine Brue, who was a member of the now dissolved negotiating committee at the Oct. 16 meeting. “I just don’t feel comfortable that it passes the smell test because I feel like it’s the same process and same direction going on.”
After much debate on how the negotiating committee would be formed and how talks would be conducted between the town and the Kraft Group, the board voted to table its discussion with no action until the Oct. 30 meeting.
However, that Oct. 30 decision came from the Kraft Group and not the Board of Selectmen, which left one member feeling as if the board has no one to blame but itself.
“I think it’s what we’ve done,” said selectman Lynda Walsh. “It’s been going back and forth. … I believe there was miscommunication; we were all over the place. I was at the table feeling like we weren’t agreeing – some of us shaking our heads yes, some shaking their heads no.”
While disappointed by Tuesday’s news, Walsh said the Kraft Group’s decision helps the board “cool down” and attempt to get on the same page.
“[The Kraft Group] is kind of giving us a break,” Walsh said. … “I think in the meantime, we can do some homework and we don’t have to push for a special time or date but we do have to figure out from [Town Counsel Richard Gelerman] and [Paicos] on how we handle things moving forward. … It was getting more and more complicated.”
It didn’t appear to be as complicated in 2011 when the town and the Kraft Group appeared to reach a comprehensive agreement regarding funding for entry into regional water treatment facility in exchange for additional liquor licenses and zoning changes.
“In April 2011 we thought we were very close to a deal and in fact we crafted a term sheet but ultimately the board then didn’t vote for it so we continued to talk,” Murphy said.
Those talks continued over the summer with a public negotiating committee chaired by Walsh, which was dissolved after three meetings and reopened again this past September before the town’s negotiating committee was dissolved because it was subject to Open Meeting Law.
From the Kraft Group’s perspective, it is clear an agreement will not be reached any time soon.
“We've spent years and untold hours on this with no progress,” said Jeff Cournoyer, spokesman for The Kraft Group. “We made a business decision to begin focusing on developing Patriot Place as best we can currently.”
Cournoyer added what the Kraft Group was looking for from the town is no different than what other cities and towns across the state are pursuing as economic development initiatives.
“The term sheet was compiled at the request of town officials,” Cournoyer said. “It includes items that would help us develop Patriot Place. None of them would cost taxpayers – liquor licenses, flexible zoning, pursuit of state/federal funds for transportation and infrastructure improvements."
The Kraft Group, according to Cournoyer, remained hopeful since talks opened in 2009 that the company could work with the town on coming to an agreement with all the different boards – Water and Sewer, Planning Board and Board of Selectmen – and put a proposal before the voters.
But that never happened.
“We've been at this for years, and it doesn't appear that the collective will is there from town officials to make a deal,” Cournoyer said.
That’s not to say a deal between the town and the Kraft Group won’t happen down the road as both sides appear open to negotiations in the future … just not at the present.
“Certainly look forward to working with you in the future on whatever projects may come down the road, it’s just that this one right now, we are respectfully withdrawing our efforts,” Murphy told selectmen Tuesday.
Foxborough Board of Selectmen chair James DeVellis said the “door is open” for the Kraft Group to return to the table.
“The door is certainly open if things change on the liquor licenses and they want to come back,” DeVellis said. “There’s certainly a willingness to work with them.”
Walsh is less certain the door is open for the board moving forward.
“I’m not sure if the door is still open for us if we need to go to them and discuss something,” she said. “I think it’s best for the town to cool down and move forward.”
Kraft Group Still Pursuing Zoning Changes?
Foxborough Town Planner Sharon Wason told the Board of Selectmen following the Kraft Group’s announcement Tuesday that she is not certain if the company’s decision to no longer pursue negotiations with the Board of Selectmen meant it would do the same with the Planning Board.
“The articles submitted to the Planning Board this year were largely identical to the articles for the previous two years, at least,” Wason said. … “My sense is they are going to keep moving ahead on the zoning. It was something I believed they molded into the negotiations because they had a number of items on the table. … We will see if they continue discussing the zoning.”
The next Planning Board meeting is scheduled for Thursday Nov. 8 at 7 p.m. in the Andrew Gala Meeting Room of Town Hall.