From the 1971 NFL season until the 2001 NFL season, the Patriots played all of their home games at Foxboro Stadium. The stadium was privately funded on an extremely small budget and featured few amenities. Its aluminum benches would freeze over during games with cold weather and it had an unorganized dirt parking lot. Foxboro Stadium did not prove to bring in the profit that was needed to keep an NFL team in New England, as it was one of the smallest stadiums in the NFL, with just over 60,000 seats. The team had fallen into debt after team executive Chuck Sullivan attempted to bring music acts to the stadium to earn more profit for the team. Tickets sales failed, however, and the team's debt increased even further - to a final total of $126 million (USD). After two unsuccessful owners bought the team and stadium, it was clear that a new stadium had to be built for the team to stay in New England. This is when other cities in the New England area, including Boston, Hartford and Providence became interested in building new stadiums to lure the Patriots away from Foxboro.
The first major stadium proposal from another city came in September 1993. Lowell Weicker, the Governor of Connecticut, proposed to the Connecticut General Assembly that a new stadium should be built in Hartford to attract the Patriots to move there, stating that a stadium had "potentially great benefit" if it were built. The bill passed in the State Assembly on September 27, 1993.
In Massachusetts, there was a proposal to build a "Megaplex" in Boston, which would be the site of the stadium, baseball fields, and a much needed convention center. The proposed sites for this hybrid convention center-stadium were along Summer Street in South Boston or at the so-called Crosstown site along Melnea Cass Boulevard in Roxbury, adjacent to Boston's South End. Ultimately, the administration of Massachusetts Governor William Weld pushed for construction of a full "Megaplex" at the Crosstown site, with Boston Mayor Thomas Menino favoring construction of a new, stand-alone convention center in South Boston. Ultimately, the residents of neither of these neighborhoods wanted a stadium, thus Menino backed out fearing it would affect his chance at re-election.
Kraft then began a plan to build a new stadium in South Boston. In that plan, Kraft was to pay for the stadium himself, hoping to win the support of Weld and Menino. He began to sketch designs, but the project was leaked to the press in December 1996. The residents of South Boston objected to a stadium being built in that location, causing Menino and Weld to become angry at Kraft. Kraft abandoned all plans for a Boston Stadium after the affair. In January 1997, Kraft began talks with Providence mayor Vincent Cianci to relocate the team to Providence and build a new stadium there. The proposed 68,000 seat domed stadium would have cost $250 million, and would have been paid through income taxes, public bonds, surcharges on tickets, and private funds. However, citizens in the proposed neighborhood were highly opposed to the project because the surrounding area would have needed massive infrastructure improvements. The proposal fell through after a few weeks.
During a news conference in September 1998, the team revealed plans to build a new stadium in Foxboro, keeping the team in Massachusetts. It was to be funded by the state as well as Kraft himself. This plan brought more competition from Connecticut, as a $1 billion plan to renovate an area of Hartford, including building a stadium. Kraft then signed an agreement to move the team to Hartford on November 18, 1998. The proposed stadium included 68,000 seats, 60 luxury boxes, and had a projected cost of $375 million. As before in Boston and Providence, construction of the stadium was challenged by the residents. Problems with the site were discovered, and an agreement could not be reached regarding the details of the stadium. The entire plan eventually fell through, enraging then Connecticut governor John G. Rowland, who lobbied hard for the stadium and spent weeks deliberating with Robert Kraft. Rowland announced at a press conference that he was officially "a New York Jets fan, now and probably forever". In 1999, the team officially announced that it would remain in Foxboro, which led to Gillette Stadium's construction. Robert Kraft agreed to pay for the construction costs by himself.
On April 18, 2000, the team revealed plans for the new stadium in Foxboro. It was announced as a 68,000 seat stadium at a cost of $325 million, privately financed. Concurrently announced was a new road to access the stadium from U.S. Route 1, and an additional 3,000 parking spaces to accommodate the increased number of fans.
The stadium was designed by HOK Sports. Kraft wanted it modeled on M&T Bank Stadium which had opened in Baltimore, Maryland in 1998. Kraft insisted on it having a "front door" with a Disneyland-like entrance. HOK went through 200 designs before coming up with one that Kraft liked. The entrance includes a lighthouse (which was originally designed to shoot a light 2 miles (3.2 km) high) and a bridge modeled on Boston's Longfellow Bridge. The lighthouse and bridge are now featured on the stadium's logo.
For the first eight years of its existence the stadium used a videoboard, with a smaller LED scoreboard just beneath it, at each end of the field. The south side also had a large LED scoreboard in addition to the smaller one. In 2010, the stadium installed two new high definition videoboards to replace the entire previous setup at both ends. Gillette Stadium ranks first among all NFL venues in stadium food safety with a 0% critical violations. The Gillette Stadium food service, instead of being outsourced like most NFL teams, is run in-house and is led by the Patriots executive director of foods and beverage David Wheeler.