A win for the Red Sox and the public: a stadium authority
By Phil Primack, Freelancer, 01/08/00
The Boston Red Sox may soon have a higher authority to turn to to get their
21st century ballpark actually built in the 21st century.
According to several heavies in Boston's sports business world, House
Speaker Thomas Finneran and others are quietly floating the idea of a public
stadium authority to build and own the ballpark, which the Red Sox would then
lease. The approach is new to Massachusetts, though many other states have
used such authorities to finance and operate sports facilities.
At first blush, the approach could be positive for both the Red Sox and
the public. But only if the authority is structured and operated in a way that
protects and promotes the public interest first and that of the team second.
The Red Sox, who face a widening credibility gap by their continued
unwillingness or inability to produce a serious financing plan for their
ballpark, could benefit in several ways. Creation of a stadium authority to
help finance the ballpark means owner John Harrington would not have to bring
in a private equity partner, something he clearly wants to avoid. As a public
entity, the stadium authority could also sell bonds at a far more favorable
interest rate, a factor even more crucial with rates poised to rise over the
At least as important to the team, the authority could more expeditiously
move to assemble the land for the new ballpark. Right now city officials are
wary of declaring the proposed site as a "blighted area," a condition
necessary for the city to exercise its eminent domain power. The authority
could take over the task, much as the Massachusetts Convention Center
Authority has become the eminent domain force in taking land for the new
But if it is to have such heady powers as eminent domain, a stadium
authority must be properly constructed and duly vigilant in assuring that the
public investment in a new park is both protected and returned.
This will be no easy task - the boondoggles of the Massachusetts Port
Authority haven't exactly created a warm and fuzzy public mood toward such
But like it or not, a fundamental political reality dictates that a stadium
authority may be the best hope for a true public say in any stadium deal.
Finneran and others may genuinely dislike the idea of giving any public money
to rich sports teams, but neither he nor other elected officials want to be
dubbed as Red Sox deal killers. An authority could offer a far more honest
vehicle to define and protect the public role in such a transaction.
And for the Red Sox, the authority may offer the only way to make their
Despite all the rhetorical smoke about "public infrastructure spending,"
most of the $70 million Massachusetts is spending for a new Foxboro stadium is
going toward direct improvements on New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft's
private property. The state gets little in return except a marginal revenue
stream that may or may not be greater than revenue that would have been
generated by alternative uses of the same property.
The new Red Sox ballpark is already tied to promises of broader
development. A new stadium authority could provide a public vehicle that would
help determine the scope, shape, and feel of such development, including
infrastructure requirements needed to make them happen. Dim as the public
regard might be for public agencies, would neighborhood groups rather have
such development completely left in private hands?
About 20 states have stadium authorities of some sort. They have various
designs and financing systems. In Detroit, for example, Detroit Tigers owner
Michael Ilitch is spending $145 million of his own money toward the new
ballpark slated to open in April. The public is spending about $115 million on
the structure, which will be owned by the Detroit-Wayne County Stadium
Authority, which will then lease the ballpark to Ilitch for free for 35 years.
In at least one public benefit, bleacher seats will be available for as little
as $3 - a far cry from recent Fenway Park hyperinflation.
There is no way the Red Sox will get such a sweet deal in Massachusetts.
The team already recognizes that it will likely end up spending more of its
own money than any other team in the country. But if there is a true interest
in making a new Fenway happen, some kind of responsible, publicly accountable
entity will be needed to figure out who pays what, who gets what, and who
A proposal for a stadium authority "would put this whole new Red Sox
ballpark into fast-forward gear," said Patrick Moscaritolo, president of the
Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau. "It would finally go into warp