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Democrats eye staging a July event at Fenway Park

Fenway Park will host an event as part of the Democratic National Convention, as planners try to set next summer's four-day political extravaganza apart with activities around the city and the region, convention chairman Bill Richardson said yesterday.

Richardson declined to discuss specifics. He said the nature of the Fenway event would remain a "surprise" for now, but that it and other events would take advantage of unique backdrops and historic sites in Greater Boston.

"It's not going to be the standard speechifying and traditional convention activity that gets little coverage," Richardson said. "We're going to come out with something that has pizazz, and takes advantage of Boston and the surrounding area's various locales."

Plans for an elaborate convention continued as concern has escalated about the possibility of the event's costs far exceeding its initial price tag. Already, the security cost estimate has risen from $10 million to $25 million, and this week members of the New York congressional delegation raised the possibility that the cost would rise still further. Congress is on track to approve a total of $50 million for both the Democratic and Republican conventions, but New York congressmen say they believe the true costs may reach $80 million. It's unclear how an appropriation would be split between the two events. Seth Gitell, spokesman for Mayor Thomas M. Menino, said it's too soon to determine the actual costs. "Everything is still in the planning stages," Gitell said.

Costs aside, Richardson stressed that the party will try to minimize the inconvenience the convention causes for area residents.

Speculation has circulated for months that planners would seek to have the presidential nominee appear at the nation's oldest major league ballpark, to create a compelling television moment in an age when fewer viewers are tuning in to political conventions. But such a move could create logistical challenges, with the Secret Service needing to secure a vast outdoor venue away from the FleetCenter, where the convention will be held.

Another Democratic Party leader said convention events are also in the works for historic sites such as Faneuil Hall and the Bunker Hill Monument.

Menino said he hasn't been told of specific plans, but said he thought the likeliest event for Fenway Park to host would be a concert. Bruce Springsteen played a pair of sold-out shows at Fenway in September, in the first rock concerts of that scale in the park's 91-year history.

The New York Yankees will be in town for a weekend series against the Red Sox that will end Sunday, July 25 -- the day before the convention begins at the FleetCenter. Convention organizers are discussing purchasing blocks of tickets for convention delegates.

Meg Vaillancourt, a senior vice president for corporate affairs for the Red Sox, said preliminary discussions have taken place about convention organizers using Fenway, but nothing is finalized.

Richardson arrived in Boston yesterday, and he and Menino will join Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe today in welcoming more than 450 members of the national press at the FleetCenter. There, party officials will begin to lay out their themes for July's four-day presidential nominating convention, the first ever to be held in Boston.

Richardson said the convention will celebrate Boston's diversity, and use that as a way to point toward diversity within the party -- not just racial and ethnic minorities, but working families, young people, and residents from all walks of life. Democrats will focus heavily on drawing younger voters to the polls, he said.

"We want to highlight at the convention inclusion and diversity, and Boston is the appropriate city because of the diverse population and its history," Richardson said. "We want to celebrate the vibrant communities that make up the party, the traditional Democratic coalition."

McAuliffe said the event will be a "totally different convention than you ever had before." He said events could be held at Boston Common, Faneuil Hall, and the Bunker Hill Monument.

"It's driven by necessity," McAuliffe said. "We have to realize . . . networks don't cover these conventions like they used to."

Richardson said he had no concerns about the pace of fund-raising by the convention host committee, despite reports that the pace of private financing for the event has slowed to a trickle. He praised Menino and US Senator Edward M. Kennedy's work on behalf of the convention, and said he would soon hire a liaison to work in Boston to keep direct tabs on convention planning.

"The fund-raising and the host committee's work has been superb," Richardson said. "We're on schedule, we're on budget. There's a couple of snags that happen when you have any convention, but there's been great cooperation so far."

Amid discussions of closing down North Station and parts of Interstate 93 for security purposes during the convention, Richardson said he would push to make sure the city remains functional in the course of the event. He said he expected plans regarding transportation issues to be finalized within the next 60 days.

"We want to be sure that the Boston area is not inconvenienced," Richardson said. "You don't want any visible disruptions, but at the same time there's going to be thousands and thousands of [additional] people in Boston."

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