FOXBORO — Transforming a half-century of permitting precedent, selectmen this week unanimously agreed to streamline the approval process for sporting and entertainment events at Gillette Stadium by requiring a single annual license.
This umbrella approach marks a significant departure from past practice whereby selectmen convened separate public hearings for each event (or seasonal schedules, in the case of professional football or soccer) — a model in place since the original Schaefer Stadium opened in 1970.
Patrick Costello, a municipal law attorney who serves as town counsel in Foxboro and several other communities, told selectmen the town has been exploring an annual licensing process for the past four years.
“In my view, this provides a more streamlined and predictable process,” Costello said Tuesday night. “I believe it’s a document that’s worthy of the board’s consideration.”
According to Costello, each proposed event in the annual license application would require a separate summary package disclosing financial, logistical and public safety considerations. These would be reviewed by town officials, including the police and fire departments, then voted on collectively during a single public hearing, presumably in late spring.
Costello stressed the town would not relinquish any of its existing authority over stadium events, and said the new process would provide for the same levels of insurance and indemnification.
More critically, Costello added, selectmen would retain the right to require separate public hearings for events scheduled after the annual license is approved — like additional concert dates.
“We all know things change,” he said. “And we do have the right to intercede in such situations.”
Ideally, Costello said, the annual license would run from May 1 to April 30 the following year. This cycle would enable professional football and soccer schedules to be finalized, as well as some summer concert dates and other events such as monster truck rallies.
However, it would also require a special act of the Legislature, as state law mandates that any such annual licenses conform to a calendar year cycle.
Costello suggested this discrepancy could be addressed either by a Town Meeting vote authorizing selectmen to petition the state Legislature or — more directly — enlisting Gov. Charlie Baker to introduce a bill on the town’s behalf.
Peter Tamm, an attorney with the Boston firm Goulston & Storrs who represented the Kraft Group and helped Costello draft the new procedure, said the town has remained wedded to an “ad hoc, piecemeal” approval process.
“What you’re getting is a chance to comprehensively evaluate all the events at the same time with the same rules,” he told selectmen.
Tamm added the Kraft Group has long favored an annual licensing process for that specific reason — suggesting that concert applications, for example, historically have been held to a different standard than sporting events.
Selectmen Mark Elfman, David Feldman and Chris Mitchell — all familiar with ongoing talks to enact an annual licensing process — enthusiastically supported the concept.
“I’m very comfortable with all of this,” Mitchell observed.
But newcomers Leah Gibson and Edward O’Leary, while ultimately supporting the new plan, voiced reservations.
O’Leary said it would be critical for police and fire to weigh in on any additional events that might pose public safety challenges, while Gibson suggested a license approval process which took effect May 1 would coincide with the local election cycle — and the possibility of turnover among board members.
Ultimately, however, all five selectmen voted to back a motion supplied by Costello to approve an annual license — even if efforts at special legislation fail and the local process reverts to a calendar year cycle.
Towards that end, selectmen also directed Town Manager William Keegan to contact the governor’s office relative to special legislation.