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Fictional ‘host city’ designation sparks Mass.-R.I. border war

January 7, 1997

BOSTON (AP) _ As New England and its Patriots get ready for Sunday’s AFC championship game at Foxboro Stadium, a sort of border war has erupted between Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

The team was once based in Boston and now plays about 30 miles south of the city. But NFL honchos and the opposing Jacksonville Jaguars have decided to stay and hold their championship festivities this weekend in neighboring Providence, R.I.

Some say the decision is a warning from the league to Boston Mayor Tom Menino, who is resisting the Patriots’ efforts to build a new stadium in Boston. The mayor downplays the move, noting that most of the Patriots’ opponents stay in Providence anyway, because it is closer to the stadium.

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Almond phoned Patriots owner Robert Kraft Tuesday to offer the state as the possible site of the new stadium Kraft says he must have.

Almond said no specifics on cost or location were discussed. He said he simply wanted to assure Kraft that if options for a new stadium in Massachusetts fall through, Rhode Island officials would be ready to talk.

``My door has always and will continue to remain open to the Patriots as far as the possibility of building their stadium in our state,″ Almond said.

The publicity has highlighted not only the stadium controversy but another trend. Providence’s flamboyant mayor, Vincent ``Buddy″ Cianci Jr., is making a habit of stealing the spotlight from his political cousin up north.

Just recently, Cianci brought a group of his city’s best chefs to Boston and challenged Menino to a glorified bake-off. Providence won in a patrons’ survey.

Menino, however, appears unfazed by the repeated incursions onto his turf, either by Cianci or the NFL.

``I think it’s a lot of hype about nothing,″ the mayor said as he sat on a couch at Parkman House, his informal office overlooking Boston Common.

The squabble is a classic piece of political and civic theater.

Providence is boasting, and Massachusetts Gov. William F. Weld is lamenting, that the NFL has designated Providence this weekend’s ``host city.″ There’s only one problem: There is no such thing.

``We don’t have a `host city,‴ said Leslie Hammond, the league’s director of information. ``It’s a hotel and it is the AFC headquarters. The term of `host city’ is kind of unique to the Super Bowl.″

While Cianci has been trying to pump up his city’s image with events such as the cooking contest against Boston’s finest restaurants, Weld is trying to help the Patriots build their new stadium in Boston.

Menino has been holding out, trying to build a new convention center and ballpark for the Boston Red Sox before dealing with a stadium.

``I don’t tell Bill Parcells how to coach his team. Why should somebody come in here and tell me how to build our city?″ he asked.

The stance has earned Menino some bad publicity, such as Tuesday’s Boston Herald headline reading: ``NFL snubs Hub.″ It’s also prompted some potshots from the Patriots.

``In the last couple of weeks, the mayor of Boston had made statements that he doesn’t want the NFL, the Patriots or Bob Kraft in Boston,″ said Don Lowery, the team’s spokesman. ``Those comments were hardly helpful in getting the league to put its headquarters in Boston.″

Greg Aiello, another NFL spokesman, said the decision to run the championship from Providence was based solely on logistics. The city is closer to Foxboro than Boston, and there is less game day traffic heading to the stadium from the south than the north.

``We can’t control how people view it,″ Aiello said.

Despite the semantics, there will be a significant financial payoff to Providence.

John Mousseau, executive director of the Rhode Island Sports Council, has estimated that the championship will generate about $3 million to $5 million in business activity.

Timothy Kirwan, general manager of the Westin Hotel in Providence, which is serving as the league headquarters, said he expects to sell all 363 rooms.

``We expect the playoff game to increase our revenues by about $50,000, but it will be huge for exposure of Providence as a destination market,″ Kirwan said. Not only is the NBC staff staying at the hotel, but ESPN will broadcast live from the hotel over the weekend.

Cianci has been quick to seize on the opportunity.

The mayor, who frequents city nightspots and sells his own blend of marinara sauce, is talking about holding a pep rally outside City Hall on Saturday night.

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