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Leaders tell Red Sox to find more money

By Meg Vaillancourt, Globe Staff, 06/01/2000

fter a two-hour summit at the State House, city and state leaders called on the Red Sox yesterday to contribute more private funds to their proposed $627 million ballpark in the Fenway.

Emerging from the meeting, Governor Paul Cellucci said the Red Sox must ''sharpen their pencils'' and develop a financing plan that guarantees full repayment of the $275 million in public funds the team is seeking. House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, state Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham, and Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino reiterated Cellucci's demand.

''The state and the city are willing to help ... but it's clear that there's not enough private money in this now,'' Cellucci said.

The team defended its proposal, saying the $352 million it has committed to the project is the largest private contribution to ballpark construction in professional sports.

No Red Sox officials were invited to the summit.

''The Red Sox have already sharpened our pencils down to our erasers,'' team general manager Dan Duquette said last night. ''We're also committed to covering any cost overruns. What we are asking our public leaders to do for us is what they've already done for similar projects such as the Patriots' new stadium, the new convention center, and the FleetCenter.''

The four leaders left the door open to further negotiations, however, if the team sweetens its offer. The Red Sox are pressing lawmakers to pass an aid package before the Legislature adjourns at the end of July.

''I would be hestitant to characterize [the plan] as alive or well or in extremis,'' Finneran said.

The team's financing plan, unveiled last month, calls for the city to spend $140 million to acquire and clear about 15 acres of land adjacent to Fenway Park for the new stadium. The state would pay $135 million to build two parking garages for 2,160 cars and to improve roads, sidewalks, and public transportation in the area around Kenmore Square.

Cellucci and Menino noted that some ''new ideas'' were discussed at the meeting, although, by agreement, the leaders declined to detail them publicly, saying they did ''not want to negotiate it in the media.''

According to sources familar with the talks, one of those ideas may be a publicly owned ballpark. Asked whether such a proposal was mentioned, Menino said the idea ''was not the main issue discussed.''

When pressed whether he would support such a plan, Menino said: ''I have lots of publicly owned ballparks in the city.'' He refused to answer further questions on the subject.

Menino's chief of staff, James Rooney, and other mayoral advisers have been developing a plan for a publicly owned ballpark, but it is unclear whether Menino has signed onto the idea. The Red Sox spent months discussing the proposal, but abandoned it after Menino said in April that he did not want to be in the ballpark business.

Public ownership of the facility could drastically reduce the price tag because of the city's lower borrowing costs. But such a plan would require the city to assume more than $500 million in debt. The city would presumably use the revenue streams generated by a new ballpark, such as ticket sales, concessions, naming rights, and advertising, to recoup its investment. Although publicly owned ballparks are common in other parts of the country, the idea is controversial because the city's investment would be at risk if there were baseball strike or if the team's performance led to a dropoff in attendance.

Under the Red Sox plan, the city needs revenue of $12 million a year to recoup its investment in the land. Menino repeated his call yesterday for the city to be reimbursed by revenue generated from the project.

The team has proposed that the city accept as much as $6 million in new property taxes generated by development on a five-acre parcel owned by the Red Sox that won't be needed for the new ballpark, and identify $6 million a year in additional revenue streams to finance its costs.

Menino has ruled out using the $6 million in new property taxes, even though he has said he would accept some as part of the team's payback.

Cellucci and Finneran have already said they are willing to allow the city to use a slight hike in the city's hotel tax to recoup part of its investment. The hike would raise about $2 million a year for the city, which would leave a gap of roughly $10 million a year. State leaders and the Red Sox have privately proposed several schemes to fill the gap, including turning the garages over to the city once the state bonds are paid off in 25 years, but there has been no agreement.

In pressing for public aid, the Red Sox pointed to the high cost of land in the Fenway and the difficulties in building on a site that is essentially reclaimed swampland. Stressing that the mayor had directed the team to build in the Fenway neighborhood, Duquette said the Red Sox hoped to win more support for the project as financing talks with the city and state proceed.

''There is no getting around that this is an expensive site the city has selected,'' Duquette said. ''But we feel that if we sit down with city and state officials, we can demonstrate that this project generates enough money to fully pay back the public's investment.''

Asked whether he was considering alternative sites where land might be cheaper, such as in the Seaport District or Crosstown, Menino said the Fenway was still the best location for a new ballpark. ''There are no other sites,'' he said.

With time running out on Beacon Hill to consider a ballpark bill this year, yesterday's meeting at times took on a theater-of-the-absurd quality. At one point a bomb threat was phoned into the State House, prompting the House to suspend its sessions early. The four political leaders, however, continued their ballpark summit in Cellucci's office. When the talks dragged on longer than expected, Cellucci briefly suspended them so he could plant a cherry tree with visiting Japanese dignitaries before returning to conclude the meeting.

Earlier in the day, opponents of the plan said any deal that allows the city to use its powers of eminent domain to force land owners out of the Fenway is a violation of the state constitution.

Opponents cited a 1969 opinion by the Supreme Judicial Court that said using eminent domain to build a ballpark for a single team violates the constitution.

Eminent domain is only supposed to be used for a ''public purpose,'' critics said.

''I'm sure there will be a legal challenge to this if it goes forward,'' said Herbert Gleason, a lawyer for Citizens Against Stadium Subsidies and a former lawyer for the City of Boston. ''The stadium would be built entirely on land taken by eminent domain.''

Material from the Associated Press was used in the preparation of this report.

This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 6/1/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.


 

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