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Plan costly for everyone involved

By Michael Holley, Globe Staff, Globe Columnist, 7/27/2000

e probably realized it Tuesday night, shortly after leaving a Beacon Hill press conference. If John Harrington didn't realize it then, the truth must have struck him this morning. It's not exactly a secret, so you also should know what he knows: This is the worst way to build a dream home.

On Tuesday, the news from the State House was that an agreement for a new Fenway Park had been reached. If viewed superficially - that is, if you want to talk about how good-looking the new place will be - it's a terrific deal. The park will certainly be gorgeous. It will be an updated, 21st-century clone of Fenway Park. You won't have to worry about your knees touching the head of the fan in front of you, nor will you have to play peekaboo with a pole that might be obstructing your view.

But guess what? If you're watching games at a new Fenway in 2004, you won't be watching in the Fens. You'll most likely be in Chelsea, Revere, Somerville, or Crosstown. That's because Harrington, the Sox CEO, has to know that he cannot build a new park close to its current location. If he wants a park that's not going to cost him $400 million or $500 million, he's going to have to go elsewhere. The new Fenway proposal is so bad (and costly) that when it looks in the mirror, it sees the Big Dig.

Today, the Sox say it will cost $352 million to build the park, and that's only if everything runs smoothly. How often does that happen in construction? A more realistic and, frankly, conservative number is $400 million. When it comes to building anything, Boston is now the most expensive city in the United States, even more expensive than New York. Since the agreement calls for the Sox to cover all overruns, Harrington must visualize himself swimming in red when he thinks of the things that could go wrong.

And here's one thing that is almost a cinch to go wrong: The opening date of 2004. To be kind, it's a reach. If there are any lawsuits from current property owners who have to be cleared out, that will delay construction. It will take two years to clear the site; how long do you think it will take to clear the bureaucracy?

The governor, mayor, Senate president, and House speaker were all smiling after Tuesday's press conference. Many fans did the same thing yesterday. I still can't figure out why. Harrington didn't smile, he said, because he was exhausted. He could have added that he wasn't smiling because Tuesday was a sad evening for Boston sports.

It was sad because it simultaneously emphasized that sports fans are not respected and that there are no breaks for New England-bred owners who go to lawmakers looking for help. For some reason, lawmakers thought it would be better for the Sox to build in the Fens, even though that's not the team's first choice. More important, it would cost everyone considerably less cash if the team built somewhere else. Instead, we are left with a $5 parking surcharge in an area where game-day parking already peaks at $25. There are also surcharges on tickets and food.

If this is progress, I declare myself guilty of not getting it.

This is the second time in three years that the city and state have made silly decisions regarding a professional sports team. When the Patriots wanted to move to the Waterfront, they were rejected and eventually decided to build in Foxborough. At the time, 1997, they were asking for $35 million for infrastructure. A stadium, which they were willing to build on their own, was going to cost $225 million. Two years later, they received a $70 million infrastructure ''loan'' from the state. Their stadium will now cost more than $300 million. In other words, they were given twice as much as they originally asked for in infrastructure. Yes, it's a loan - but does it make sense? The needless delay also cost the Patriots at least $75 million.

Now, the state and city are inexplicably playing with everyone's time and money. I wouldn't be surprised if the Sox took the $100 million infrastructure payout from the state, sold the land where Fenway now stands, and used those funds as equity for a new park elsewhere. It would be a sound economic plan, much saner than the one with which they are now saddled. It's amazing that the state and city have decided that the best tack is to keep them there and penalize fans with higher ticket prices on an already-too-high ticket. The spin is that taxpayers came out of this clean. Did I miss something? Are fans not taxpayers?

Harrington shook hands on the deal, but I'm sure he has a backup plan in mind. He has to. He also has to be saddened to know that his home state treats visitors better than homeboys. Harrington is from Jamaica Plain. Robert Kraft is from Brookline. They both grew up adoring their local teams. You can sense the genuine excitement of both when their teams do well.

But when it was time for them to build new stadiums - and their teams desperately need them - they met unnecessary resistance. Compare their tale with that of Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, who lives in Buffalo. The state built a parking garage near North Station, and the garage happens to be the foundation to the FleetCenter, which opened in 1995. As anyone in construction knows, the foundation is the most expensive part of a stadium or arena.

In essence, the state handled Jacobs's most expensive costs. Why? Jacobs doesn't spend money although he makes plenty of it. He also seems content with putting a mildly competitive team on the ice. At least the Patriots and Sox speak of winning championships and have the signing bonuses (Patriots) and payrolls (Sox) to prove it.

As a man who works with numbers for a living, Harrington should examine the deal he has and come to a conclusion. He must conclude that he has to move out of the neighborhood, even though the team has been there 88 years. It's going to be too costly for him to build there. It's also going to be too costly for you to watch there.

Michael Holley is a Globe columnist. He can be reached by e-mail at holley@globe.com.

This story ran on page D1 of the Boston Globe on 7/27/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

 

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