By Steve LeBlanc, Associated Press, 05/22/00
BOSTON -- Red Sox CEO John Harrington says he wants to know by the end of July if the city and state are prepared to chip in $275 million for a new Fenway Park.
But critics of the plan are crying foul, accusing the team of trying to bully lawmakers into a quick decision.
"It's clear to me that the Red Sox' plan all along has been to strike a deal in the dark and without public input," Rep. James Marzilli, D-Arlington, said Monday. "This tells me they think the public won't support their grab for money."
Adding to the concerns of opponents is a closed-door legislative caucus planned for Wednesday. House Speaker Thomas Finneran called the caucus to discuss the Fenway plan.
The team unveiled their financing proposal for a new $627 million Fenway Park on Friday. The plan calls for the team to spend $352 million on a new arena. The state would kick in $135 million for a parking garage and other infrastructure. The city of Boston would contribute $140 million.
Critics say it's unrealistic for the team to expect they can win support for so expensive a project in the waning weeks of the formal legislative calendar, which ends in July.
"It's hard to imagine how anyone could think they could introduce a major piece of legislation and get it passed in less than two and a half months," said House Republican Leader Francis Marini, R-Hanson.
The team has been working with legislative leaders, including Finneran, Senate President Thomas Birmingham and Gov. Paul Cellucci for nearly a year to broker a deal, according to Red Sox spokeswoman Kathryn St. John.
"We are trying to make sure there is a very inclusive process that gives everyone the opportunity to review the ideas that we brought forward and to see what other ideas are out there," she said.
The process has been anything but open, according to Rob Sargent of the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group.
The team is controlling the debate by refusing to make their plan public in the form of legislation and refusing to share details with members of the House and Senate, Sargent said.
"A year after the proposal has been floated, there should be a concrete bill filed with details for the public and rank and file members to scrutinize," Sargent said. "They've had a whole set of closed-door meetings and now they are going to have a closed-door caucus on a bill that hasn't even been filed yet."
Fears of a closed-door process are overblown, according to Cellucci, who said the plan will ultimately face the same public oversight that any other bill faces.
"Ultimately you have to have a public hearing and you have to have debate on the floor of the House and Senate," Cellucci said. "I think people are just trying at this preliminary stage ... to see whether we can get to some consensus at least among the leaders and obviously the leaders have to know what their members think."
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said he hopes a deal can be worked out before the end of the Legislature's formal session on July 31, but said the team should not expect the city to sacrifice other pressing needs to pay for the ballpark.
Menino said he needs to make sure the city can bring in about $12 million a year in revenue from the project to pay off the debt on the $140 million the team is asking it to contribute.
"We all want to try to help the Red Sox, but we have a lot of needs in the city and we can't cut those out for a baseball stadium," Menino said Monday.