Mayor's aides consider city-owned new Fenway
By Meg Vaillancourt, Globe Staff, 04/28/00
As the Boston Red Sox struggle to secure financing for a proposed $600
million ballpark project, advisers to Mayor Thomas M. Menino are considering
the possibility that the city of Boston could own a new Fenway Park, according
to city sources.
Menino has not endorsed such a plan, but sources say his chief of staff,
James Rooney, has met privately with several mayoral advisers - including Hale
and Dorr senior partner Harold Hestnes and McKinsey and Company management
consultant David Fabini - to determine whether city ownership of a new
ballpark makes economic sense and to discuss how the proposal might work.
Foxborough parking lot owners object to key provision in Patriots' stadium
Hestnes confirmed yesterday that he is assisting the mayor in reviewing
possible ballpark financing schemes but declined to comment on any plans. Red
Sox officials also declined to comment.
But although city sources said several options are under review, one plan
that is receiving serious scrutiny calls for the city to use its bonding
authority to acquire the proposed site for a ballpark and build the facility.
In exchange, the city would acquire an ownership stake in the park. As in
other cities that have built ballparks, the Red Sox would be expected to lease
the facility from Boston.
Whether the city would own the entire ballpark or a share in it could
depend on how much the city invests in the project, the sources said.
The estimated cost of acquiring the 14-acre site adjacent to 88-year-old
Fenway Park and building the 44,000-seat ballpark is $450 million.
The team's $600 million plan for the entire project, unveiled last year,
also includes two parking garages and major infrastructure improvements.
Just two weeks ago, Menino ruled out a similar scheme calling for the
creation of a Stadium Authority to develop and own a new ballpark. At the
time, Menino said, "I don't want to be in the baseball business."
But now Menino appears at least willing to have his advisers explore in
greater detail whether the city should use its bonding authority to buy the
land and help build the facility. Unlike prior proposals, the plan may not
require the creation of a Stadium Authority, sources said.
Supporters of a city-owned ballpark have argued that Boston could recoup
its investment through lease payments and "dedicated revenues," such as ticket
sales, concessions, and the sale of luxury boxes. In addition, the city could
use increased property taxes from surrounding development to help pay off the
But critics contend a city-owned stadium is a high-risk political
proposition. Indeed, ballpark boosters fear the plan could upend any prospect
of getting legislative approvals for any plan before lawmakers adjourn for the
year in July.
The fear is that by introducing yet another complex scenario so late in the
process, frustrated lawmakers could postpone any action until next year. No
formal plan has been submitted to the Legislature by the Red Sox or the city.
Any plan involving city ownership of the ballpark would require a
two-thirds vote from the Boston City Council in order to use the city's
But earlier this month, eight of the 13 councilors sent a letter to
Governor Paul Cellucci formally notifying him that they had "grave
reservations" about using city funds to acquire the site, let alone to help
build the ballpark.
House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran may also be a major stumbling block to a
city-owned ballpark. Finneran has consistently opposed the use of public funds
in building sports stadiums.
The Legislature's support is essential to obtain funding for the
infrastructure and transportation improvements that a ballpark would require,
regardless of who owned it. State approval may also be needed if new taxes are
required to support the city's investment.
Ballpark opponents have widely scorned the idea of public investment in a
new Fenway Park, and tax watchdogs are skeptical about whether the city can
afford to invest as much as $450 million in a stadium.
"As more of the city's funds are earmarked, there's less discretion for
this kind of venture, and there are a lot of competing needs," said Samuel
Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau. "I'd think officials
might feel hard-pressed to see investment in a new ballpark for the Red Sox as
more important than housing or improved schools, for example."
Other skeptics questioned how the city could protect its investment in the
event of a baseball strike or a loss of attendance because of the team's
Publicly owned stadiums are common in other parts of the country, and Major
League Baseball has been aggressively pushing for public investment in new
ballparks. With the exception of San Francisco, which is almost entirely
privately financed, most ballparks built over the past decade have had
substantial public investment.
The Red Sox signaled their willingness to cede control of a new Fenway Park
when the city-owned Stadium Authority idea was floated.
Indeed, the team's development adviser, Robert Walsh, was promoting the
plan to create an authority for months and had been talking with city and
state officials about the idea.
But Menino surprised team officials when he said he rejected a city-owned
ballpark during a televised interview with the Boston Globe and WBZ-TV last
After meeting with the mayor following the interview, Red Sox chief John
Harrington refocused his attention on developing a plan for a