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DOWNTOWN
Down to the wire

By Steve Bailey, Globe Staff, 7/26/2000

or all of you who are sick and tired of reading about a new Fenway, I say: Wake up! This is the stuff of legends.

One day when we're sitting in the sun on the first base line of a grand new Fenway those of us who were paying attention in these dog days of summer can talk about how we got here, about that one wild day in July when Cellucci yelled at Finneran and it all came down to The Showdown later that afternoon in the governor's corner office.

It gets no better than this because as I write this column I have no idea how this Boston story for the ages is going to play itself out. After days and days of the Fenway plan-of-the-day, all of the principals found themselves - finally - in the same room yesterday. And if there were any cards still to play, this was the place and this was the time to play them.

This was Boston brinkmanship played at the highest order, with the governor, the mayor, the speaker, and the Senate president there at the table to see if, indeed, there was a deal to be made with John Harrington, the man entrusted with the Yawkey legacy.

There were three other men in that room, too, yesterday afternoon, but you have read precious little about them in these last white-knuckle days, days when you could smell the panic at the other end of the phone. And that is just the way they preferred it.

But these three - Jack Connors, David D'Alessandro, and Chad Gifford - played a pivotal if unseen role trying to get a ballpark back on track and then keep it there. It wasn't quite Bank of Boston strongman Richard Hill marching up the State House steps to rescue the Commonwealth from the brink of insolvency in 1975, but it was a pretty good knockoff in this day and age, considering business leadership is something you're supposed to find in places like Atlanta and Cleveland.

Connors, who has headed Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, the big ad shop, for decades, and D'Alessandro, the new chief executive of John Hancock Financial Services, are as tight as any two top executives in town. Connors and Gifford, the boss-in-waiting at FleetBoston Financial, are also close. Connors, as is so often the case, is the link between Gifford and D'Alessandro.

Often together, sometimes separately, the three have worked the phones and met repeatedly with the Red Sox and with political leaders, who sometimes weren't talking with one another at all. Gifford, the banker whose bank would lead the financing, has been the numbers guy, telling both the Sox and the pols the economic realities of what is possible and what is not.

If the pols and the Sox can find an accommodation, Boston business is going to have to put its money where its mouth is. Unlike most loans, Fleet is not going to be able to lay off its risk by syndicating this deal to institutions around the country. This is going to have to be a hometown deal: Hancock, Liberty Mutual, and others are going to have to step in because out-of-towners probably won't. The financing is just that tight. No whining, either, about surcharges on luxury boxes.

It is easy to be cynical watching yet another ''Mission: Impossible'' rescue. There go the boyos jumping through hoops to satisfy their jock fantasies, whether it's for the Red Sox or the Patriots. Where are the summits on education, on housing, on child care?

The answer is that stadiums and schools are different. Big projects like ballparks and convention centers lend themselves to desperate, 11th-hour solutions, at least here in Massachusetts. Education and housing aren't so simple. Does anyone think a summit will fix our schools?

But Connors and Gifford and D'Alessandro and the others have created a problem for themselves by raising the bar - or maybe an opportunity for us all. A stadium is easy; fixing the schools and easing the housing crunch, now there is a ''Mission: Impossible'' for the boyos and the girlos, too.

You can reach me at (617) 929-2902 or

bailey@globe.com

This story ran on page C1 of the Boston Globe on 7/26/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.



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