Sox seek $275m from city, state for new Fenway
State leaders receptive, but Menino balks
By Meg Vaillancourt, Globe Staff, 05/20/2000
Boston Red Sox chief executive John Harrington yesterday detailed a tentative financing plan for the team's proposed $627 million ballpark project, calling for $275 million in public funds and offering a $352 million commitment from the team.
State leaders offered the Red Sox encouraging words yesterday, but Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino was sharply critical of the team's approach, saying it failed to guarantee the city a full return on its investment.
Menino said last night he was ''highly skeptical'' of key elements of the plan. Although he acknowledged that the Red Sox had attempted to meet concerns he has expressed in recent weeks, he dealt the team a serious blow by rejecting its proposed payback methods.
''It shows some movement on the Red Sox part, which is good. It just doesn't go far enough,'' Menino said. ''I'm willing to listen and work with them as long as they are willing to provide more guarantees for the city's taxpayers.''
Under the proposal outlined by Harrington, the Red Sox would pay the total cost of building a new ballpark, estimated at $352 million. In turn, the city would pay $140 million to acquire 15 acres adjacent to the current Fenway Park and prepare the site for construction, and the state would fund $135 million for infrastructure improvements and two parking garages.
Team officials stressed that their investment would set a record for a Major League Baseball franchise, eclipsing the $320 million investment made by the San Francisco Giants in Pacific Bell Park.
And in a bid to win passage of a bill before lawmakers adjourn for the year in July, Harrington said the Red Sox would also accept the risk of any cost overruns on the ballpark. Projected costs for the project have risen $82 million in the year since the design of the facility was unveiled, mostly because of rising land costs.
''We feel we've put together a plan that calls for the maximum private investment possible,'' Harrington said in an interview with Globe reporters and editors yesterday. ''But we do need help with land and infrastructure. And we truly believe the project will bring significant public benefits to the city and state.''
Menino was especially critical of a Red Sox proposal that said increased property taxes generated by new development on a portion of the current Fenway Park site could account for roughly half of the money to pay back the city.
''I don't want to earmark future property taxes because I need that money to pay for future growth in basic city services,'' Menino said. ''That is not on the table.''
The mayor's comments are major setback to the Red Sox since the team's tentative plan counts on the new property taxes to provide $6 million of the $12 million a year the city would need to service debt payments on its $140 million investment in the project. In the past, Menino has said he was willing to count increased property taxes as part of the city's payback.
State leaders were more receptive to the Red Sox plan yesterday. Although only 10 weeks remain before lawmakers adjourn, both Governor Paul Cellucci and House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran said legislative action on a ballpark bill is still possible this year.
''We've said all along that the new Foxborough stadium deal was the model, and the Red Sox plan goes even further in repaying the public's investment,'' Cellucci said. ''The bill we adopted for the Patriots paid back a portion of the state's investment. But the Red Sox are saying they can pay back all the state and city funds. With the two garages, I think there are enough revenues available to make this work.''
However, Finneran stressed that if the state funds construction of the two garages, the state must control the parking revenues generated by them. And while he did not demand a payback for traditional infrastructure improvements, he was cautious about endorsing state funds for the new public park the Red Sox plan to build around the infield and left-field wall of the existing, 88-year-old Fenway Park.
The park ''may be pushing the envelope a bit, but it's a plan that's drawn with broad brushstrokes, so I'd have to see more details and confer with members before I offered an opinion on it,'' Finneran said. ''But in general, the plan seems to take into account the principles the House articulated with the Patriots, which is important.''
Under the team's proposal, the state would fund $53 million worth of ''public improvements'' including public transportation, utilities, and roadwork.
The state would also provide $82 million for the two garages. In a deal similar to the one adopted for the New England Patriots' new stadium last year, the state would recoup its investment by collecting parking fees, which have been estimated at up to $10 million a year.
Neighborhood activists and others who have opposed the project from the start scoffed at the team's plans yesterday, arguing that any subsidy would amount to ''corporate welfare.'' At a press conference yesterday afternoon, opponents argued that no public money should be used to fund any part of the Fenway Park project.
Harrington stressed the team's intention to push ahead and secure financing this year. ''Time is of the essence,'' he said. ''We've stayed within the principles outlined for the Patriots, the Celtics, and the Bruins ... and we think this approach is the most viable politically and economically.''
He also noted that the team would fund its portion of the project without major increases in ticket prices and concessions. The majority of the $45 million in additional money the team expects to take in annually from the new park would come from the sale of 1 million more tickets, 100 luxury suites, increased concessions, and new marketing opportunities, such as naming rights for the ballpark. The Red Sox have tentatively priced the luxury suites at up to $200,000 a year, among the most expensive prices in baseball.
Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette argued that without a new ballpark the Red Sox will not be able to compete with other teams who can use revenue generated by their new ballparks to pay for better player development programs and escalating salaries.
The Red Sox estimate a new ballpark would provide them an additional $17 million a year for player costs.
Other teams such as the New York Yankees would still have larger budgets to spend, Duquette said, but the Red Sox would have enough to remain competitive. ''The longer we wait, the further behind we'll fall,'' Duquette said. ''We need a new ballpark to survive.''
This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 5/20/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.