boston.com your connection to The Boston Globe

Menino rules out city funds to aid Red Sox plans

Mayor Thomas M. Menino yesterday ruled out using city funds to finance Red Sox proposals for renovating the area around Fenway Park, even as team officials insisted to state and city officials that they are not seeking a specific commitment for money.

Menino, who met at the Parkman House with Red Sox owners yesterday, said the team did not ask for public money, but he nonetheless ruled out city assistance.

''That's not an issue right now," the mayor said in an interview. ''We don't have the finances to do it."

The team's three major owners -- Larry Lucchino, John Henry, and Tom Werner -- also met with Governor Mitt Romney and legislative leaders, asking them for cooperation on improving the area around the 93-year-old ballpark, according to Romney's director of communications, Eric Fehrnstrom. They did not ask for state action, Fehrnstrom added.

In two meetings at the State House, the team owners outlined, as they did with Menino, the team's plans to revitalize the neighborhood around Fenway Park and talked of their vision of improvements for the area, including an upgrade of mass transit.

Menino said the owners specifically mentioned that the Red Sox would like to see improvements to the Fenway stop on the MBTA's Green Line and a new commuter rail stop.

''They want to end all speculation they'd be moving out of the area," Menino said. ''They're staying. They want to work together with the neighborhood and improve the neighborhood."

The Sox owners did not specify their proposals, and one strategist said the team has made no firm decisions on the next steps in redeveloping the area around Fenway. However, according to one source who has been briefed on their plans, the Red Sox are interested in having the city build a garage in the area to accommodate daily commuters that would also provide parking for Red Sox fans during night and weekend games. The team would receive the revenues for game-day parking.

The team is also looking for improvements to streets and sidewalks, a cleanup of the Muddy River, and a commitment that the park will be protected from encroachment by high-rise buildings that would block fans' view of the skyline and cast shadows over the field, according to the individual briefed on the plans.

Some of the other ideas include new restaurants and a sports museum or hall of fame at Fenway Park, according to executives briefed on the plans.

One legislative leader who attended one of yesterday's meetings with the Red Sox owners said lawmakers would be open to a request for financial backing from the state if the team begins a neighborhoodwide effort to get behind the redevelopment project.

''I can see some cooperation . . . if it is beneficial to the community and if it is a communitywide approach, as they said they were going to do," said the lawmaker, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The team owners plan to hold a press conference today to announce they will stay in Fenway Park, with no conditions tied to state and city financial aid.

''The Red Sox made it clear they intend to make Fenway Park their permanent home and that they would be looking for the cooperation of the neighborhood, the city, and the state as they move forward with their plans to improve the area," Fehrnstrom said after the morning meeting between the Sox owners and Romney and several of his top aides. ''They were speaking in very general terms, and there was no request for specific state action or involvement."

A senior legislative source said the owners spent 25 minutes with Senate President Robert E. Travaglini, House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, and several other lawmakers in which the team owners briefed the lawmakers on their decision to stay at Fenway. The source said the owners did not ask for state assistance.

''They went out of their way to avoid that," said a legislative leader who was at the meeting. ''They were obviously well coached in not asking for any financial commitment from us. If that comes, it comes later."

The Red Sox approach to the city and the state seems far less demanding than it was five years ago, when the team's former management persuaded the state to provide $100 million for infrastructure construction and the city agreed to spend $140 million for acquisition and cleanup costs for the land. The project fell through, and the team changed hands in 2002. Since then, Henry, Lucchino, and Werner have focused on staying at Fenway. But according to those who have worked with them on the future of Fenway, the owners were shocked to find that many in the New England area would be willing to go to games in a new stadium.

Fenway, which opened in April 1912, is considered a landmark in the rich history of the game. But critics complain that it is outdated and structurally defective. They say its seating capacity of 36,298, the smallest in the major leagues, is also a major obstacle to the ability of the Red Sox to compete with the New York Yankees.

The Red Sox revenue plans include increasing the stadium's capacity to about 40,000 and finding ways to add revenue through other commercial enterprises, such as a partnership with Boston College to promote its athletics and selling photos of fans in the stands.

The Red Sox plan to use today's announcement as the beginning of a broad revitalization effort in the neighborhood. The Sox will meet with neighborhood leaders to solicit ideas and, over the coming months, work with them on plans for development. Already, the Sox and other business leaders in the neighborhood are in the process of expanding the sidewalks and planting trees and are planning to add outdoor seating to Lansdowne Street. Nightclub entrepreneur Patrick Lyons, whose Lyons Group owns several of the clubs near Fenway Park, said yesterday he is considering converting some of them to restaurants and adding a jazz or blues venue.

Lyons has also sunk $8 million into Game On!, a new restaurant in Fenway Park. Located at the corner of Brookline Avenue and Lansdowne Street, it will include private booths for fans to watch the game, as well as a room packed with video games. Lyons said he expects the 12,000-square-foot restaurant, which will serve fare such as hamburgers and nachos, to be ready for opening day.

''We've always had to live in the shadow of Fenway Park," Lyons said. ''The fact that they're making a commitment to improving and investing in the area pleases us."

Councilor Michael Ross, who represents the Fenway neighborhood, said the Sox's changes and willingness to work with business owners have helped the neighborhood. ''They're trying to make that area a destination, and they've been successful," he said.

Leaders of neighborhood groups said they plan to work with the Red Sox to push for improvements to the neighborhood's infrastructure. The Fenway Community Development Corporation has been promoting a plan for an ''urban village," with housing and a strong transportation system, said Carl Nagy-Koechlin, the group's executive director.

He said he has not heard from the Red Sox on whether the club agrees with the plans.

Team executives are scheduled to meet with the executive committee of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce this morning, a group that includes the leaders of New England's major banks, the chief executive of Staples Inc., and the publishers of The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald. The New York Times Co., parent company of the Globe, owns 17 percent of the Red Sox.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES
 
Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives