Mayor seeks pact on Fenway funding
By Meg Vaillancourt, Globe Staff, 05/21/2000
A day after he ruled out key elements of the Red Sox' financing plan for a $627 million ballpark project, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino yesterday called for a meeting with the city, state, and team officials to hammer out an agreement on $275 million in public funds the team says it needs to build a new Fenway Park.
In a move that gave ballpark boosters renewed hope, Menino also said he'd consider a slight increase in the hotel tax to help fund the city's $12 million annual debt service payments required under the Red Sox plan.
Scoffing at critics who say he's trying to kill the project, the mayor stressed that he hopes to get a new ballpark bill passed by July 31.
''Time is running out,'' Menino said yesterday. ''I'm going to ask all the parties to come to the table with us and negotiate as long as it takes to get a deal done.''
With less than 10 weeks remaining before state lawmakers adjourn until 2001, Menino said he hopes to schedule a meeting with Governor Paul Cellucci, Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham, House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, and Red Sox chief John Harrington this week.
While state lawmakers have not agreed to the Red Sox financing plan, they have signaled they are receptive to taking up a ballpark bill this year.
But Menino in recent weeks has repeatedly insisted the city must be ''guaranteed'' it can recoup the $140 million the city would pay for assembling the proposed 15-acre ballpark site. While he did not back away from that demand yesterday, the mayor stressed that he remains ''flexible'' on how the financing might be structured.
''I need protections for the city's taxpayers, but I'm open to discussions on how that can be done,'' Menino said. ''I still support a new Fenway Park. ... I want a deal by July 31.''
Menino said he was willing to consider a proposal under which the city would dedicate a one-half of 1 percent increase in the hotel tax to help offset the city's investment in the project.
In 1997 lawmakers raised hotel taxes to help pay for a planned convention center on the South Boston waterfront. The legislation also gave the city the option to increase the tax by one-half of 1 percent, if needed. The additional increase would raise about $2 million a year for the city.
By law, the increase can only be applied to convention center funding, so the city would need legislative approval to use it to help fund land acquisition for the ballpark.
However, Finneran and Birmingham have said they are willing to give the city new revenue streams to offset its investment in the Red Sox project. Menino has often cited the convention center financing as a model for payback from a new Fenway Park.
On Friday, the Red Sox revealed a tentative ballpark financing plan that calls for the city to pay up to $140 million to acquire the proposed 15-acre site across the street from Fenway Park.
The plan also calls for the state to invest $130 million in infrastructure and two parking garages included in the project. The Red Sox would finance construction of the $352 million ballpark.
While state leaders offered encouraging words on the plan, Menino immediately slammed a crucial part of the Sox proposal that relies on $6 million in new property taxes as part of the city's payback. The taxes would be generated by new development on a 51/2-acre parcel owned by the Sox that would not be needed for the new ballpark.
Team officials argued that since the parcel is part of the current outfield, the $6 million a year should count as net new revenue for the city since the land could not be developed without a new ballpark.
Menino's rejection stunned the Red Sox because he had previously said he would consider new property taxes as part of the city's payback. The $6 million a year raised by developing the site is important because it would account for half of the city's $12 million-a-year debt service.
The Red Sox have also agreed to pay for any cost overruns on the ballpark. Team officials say their $352 million investment would exceed the San Francisco Giants' record-setting $320 million privately financed stadium. The Red Sox insist they need a new ballpark to compete with teams that use revenues generated by their new stadiums to fund escalating player salaries and development programs.
Although the Red Sox were in first place in the American League East Division yesterday, team officials said that with other new ballparks coming on line, the Red Sox will fall from eighth in revenues to 17th in the next five years without a new stadium.
''Delay is the enemy because if we don't get a new ballpark soon, we will fall further and further behind other teams,'' said general manager Dan Duquette. ''The city directed us to this site and we've agreed to make the largest investment in the history of the league. We really need the city's support.''
The Red Sox plan includes other financing schemes proposed by Menino, such as partnering with key Fenway landowners to reduce land acquisition costs and asking their limited partners to invest more in the project.
Menino is not the team's only obstacle. Several City Council members have criticized the team's plan, and critics opposed to public subsidies for a new ballpark have threatened to mount a legal challenge to the required landtakings.
This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 5/21/2000.
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