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Mayor seeks changes in Fenway plan, urges MLB investment, partnerships

By Meg Vaillancourt, Globe Staff, 04/01/00

Calling for dramatic changes in how the Boston Red Sox finance a new Fenway Park, Mayor Thomas M. Menino said yesterday that Major League Baseball should invest up to $8 million in the project, and urged the team's owners to take on two major landowners in the Fenway as partners in a new ballpark.

Menino made the comments in an interview on "The Boston Globe/WBZ News Conference" that will be aired tomorrow morning.

Menino, who has been a key supporter of the Red Sox' new ballpark proposal, also dealt the team's plans a potentially serious blow when he said the city needs a guaranteed repayment on any funds it invests in the project.

"The city would have to make money or at least be sure we would get our money back and nothing I've seen has convinced me of that," Menino told the Globe following yesterday's taping. "The point is we have to have a demonstrated way to get our investment back."

Menino ruled out the creation of a new stadium authority to build the ballpark, and he was cool to the idea of using the city's bonding authority to pay for it. In discussions about the project over the past year, it was widely assumed the city would pay for land acquisition costs.

"I don't want to be in the baseball business," Menino said, adding, "There are no grants on the city's part. We are looking for a return on our investment."

Red Sox officials, saying they had not heard the mayor's remarks, declined to comment last night.

The mayor also said preliminary figures supplied by the team suggest the Sox may seek $250 million in public aid for the $600 million project, which includes a new ballpark, two parking garages, major infrastruture improvements, and the cost of assembling the proposed 14-acre new ballpark site adjacent to Fenway Park.

Menino's tough comments come at the same time that state leaders have been encouraging progress on the new ballpark.

Struggling to find a way to fund construction of the $350 million ballpark, the Red Sox have been privately discussing various scenarios with city officials under which the city might own the ballpark.

Taking a cue from House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, who last year insisted the National Football League invest in a new stadium for the New England Patriots, Menino pressed Major League Baseball to allow the Red Sox to retain the $8 million a year it currently pays to smaller-market teams in revenue sharing. In turn, Menino said, the Red Sox could use the $8 million to help repay any city investment in the project.

"Maybe we hold onto that $8 million a year and use that to pay for our debt service," Menino said.

League officials, however, countered that baseball does not have the lucrative broadcast revenues that football enjoys. They also argued that MLB has already agreed to make a "contribution" to the new ballpark by in essence forgiving several million dollars in revenue-sharing the team would owe while it builds a new ballpark.

"Major League Baseball will make significant contributions of several million dollars per year to the Red Sox' new ballpark through permanent credits and deductions against what the team would otherwise pay in revenue sharing to MLB," said Robert Starkey, a league financial adviser and consultant to the Red Sox. "This will allow the Red Sox to put more private dollars into the project than they would otherwise be able to do."

Menino also urged the team to take on two major Fenway landowners as partners in the ballpark: the D'Angelo family, who own the Twins Souvenir shops, and the Sage family, who own the Howard Johnson's Hotel. Both businesses are located in the footprint of the proposed site and so would have to have their land taken to build the new ballpark.

When the Red Sox unveiled their ballpark design last year, team officials estimated land acquisition costs at roughly $65 million. But yesterday Menino said land values have escalated since the team priced the parcels and suggested it would cost "about $100 million."

For months, the Red Sox have been talking with Menino about the city acquiring the site through its powers of eminent domain. But yesterday Menino suggested that Boston can't afford to contribute $100 million toward land-takings.

Noting the D'Angelo and Sage parcels represent more than 30 percent of the proposed site, Menino yesterday urged the Sox to accept them as "partners in a new ballpark." In exchange for the parcels, Menino suggested the D'Angelos might be allowed to sell souvenirs within the new ballpark, and Sage could build a new hotel as part of the development.

"The D'Angelos, who own a large corner parcel, why couldn't they be part of the development - say two or three percent - and Sage who owns property in the back?" Menino said. "That reduces the cost [to the city in landtakings] and that's what we're looking for."

Currently the Red Sox control all souvenir sales within Fenway Park and the team has been counting on increased souvenir sales to help finance the new park.

Both the D'Angelos and Sage have expressed interest in partnering with the Red Sox. However, team officials resisted the idea, saying they could secure private funds elsewhere, perhaps from the team's limited partners if necessary.

The entire interview with Mayor Menino will be shown tomorrow on The Boston Globe/WBZ News Conference at 11 a.m. on Channel 4.



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