Monday, March 10, 2014

Foxboro Fiasco Ended Only Way It Could

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on Monday, March 10, 2014.

By Bill Gouveia

            The foolishness in Foxboro has ended – for now.

            Selectmen made their inevitable decision last week, agreeing to transfer a liquor license to the Splitsville Bowling/Howl At The Moon entertainment venue that will now be built at Patriot Place.  The decision will help increase business at the site of the town’s largest commercial area and result in a pretty substantial increase in revenue.

            In other words, it is a good thing for Foxboro taxpayers and citizens.  The question is – why was the process so difficult and stretched out so long?

            The town’s public safety officials never had a real objection to the operation, telling selectmen from the beginning it could be handled safely.  It is located in a section of town obviously dedicated to commercial development and designed to handle the traffic and other challenges.

            Yet like Trader Joe’s before them, the operators of Splitsville/Howl became victims of the chess game being played between the Kraft Group and town officials.  While this particular match has ended in what could be termed a victory for both sides, it is merely setting up the next round in this ongoing and ever-changing contest between these two partners of necessity.

.If you’re looking to assess blame in the Splitsville fiasco, you can find it on both sides.  The Kraft Group seems to be constantly underestimating local politics in Foxboro and coming in unprepared.  If they can take on the other 31 NFL behemoths and be generally successful, they should be skilled enough to learn to deal with local politicians.  By now they know who and what they are dealing with, and should be better prepared.

On the flip side, the current board of selectmen in Foxboro has to (put politely) cut the crap.  With a new town manager ready to begin, it is an excellent time to try and put the past behind everyone and work towards a cooperative and mutually beneficial future.

Despite what some selectmen insist, this was never about public safety.  Sorry, those claims simply don’t ring true in light of the actions of the board and its individual members.  Few people are truly buying that excuse.

When a reputable place like Trader Joe’s is treated as though it was a threat to the sobriety of the public, something is wrong with the licensing authority.  The negotiations between the Kraft Group over the vast array of issues in town hovers in the background and affects nearly everything.  And unfortunately, some selectmen have not yet learned how to deal with that.

At least two current board members are clearly anti-Kraft and seem to relish their roles.  Selectmen Lorraine Brue and Virginia Coppola appear negatively affected every time a Kraft representative is in the room.  Their confrontational attitudes and constant stalling tactics do little to resolve the problems existing between the town and the KG.

The time it took for selectmen to deal with this matter was ridiculous.  Peace treaties have been negotiated, signed and implemented in less time than it took to license a bowling alley and piano bar in what clearly is an entertainment district.  The phony debates about slightly reducing capacity were little more than window dressing.

No one thinks the board of selectmen should be a rubber stamp for whatever the Kraft Group wants.  Every proposal needs to be carefully considered on its merits.  The best interests of Foxboro residents and taxpayers should always be the board’s top priority.

But like it or not, Foxboro has a major entertainment venue within its borders.  It should not be a surprise, the town approved this development every step of the way.  Selectmen should stop acting like they just discovered the scope of the stadium and Patriot Place.

Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, the main reason Splitsville will soon be opening is that the selectmen did not have a strong case for denying the license.  They most likely would have lost in court, and thus made the best deal they could.

Now Foxboro residents wait to see if both sides have learned from this painful experience, or will continue to repeat the mistakes of the past. 

If I was going to bet – oh, scratch that.  I’m pretty sure that has a lot to do with this whole mess.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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