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Nader blasts Red Sox on ballpark plan, instead, he says, team should fund Fenway upgrades

By Meg Vaillancourt, Globe Staff, 03/26/00

Standing in the shadow of the fabled Green Monster - Fenway Park's left field wall - consumer advocate and Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader yesterday blasted the Red Sox's plans for a $600 million replacement park.

A longtime opponent of public subsidies for professional sports teams, Nader denounced the team's owners as "arrogant" and equated their new ballpark plan to the ancient Roman circus.

"They both feature gladiators, but this scheme is worse because at least the ancient Romans let in the fans for free," Nader said. "There should be no public subsidies for privately owned entertainment corporations. . . . I don't think the Boston Red Sox want to be known as the Boston Tax Sox."

An outspoken critic of Connecticut Governor John Rowland's ill-fated plan to build a publicly funded stadium for football's New England Patriots, Nader has pressed federal lawmakers to revoke the antitrust exemptions currently enjoyed by Major League Baseball and the National Football League.

Nader struck a class warfare theme, urging the Red Sox to privately renovate 89-year-old Fenway Park rather than push the state and city to invest in a new ballpark.

"They should prudently and privately fund the proper renovation of this storied Fenway Park," he said as a small group of new-park opponents cheered.

"To win a World Series . . ., they don't need new skyboxes populated by gluttonous financiers freeloading on the backs of hardworking taxpayers of this state."

In town to attend a Green Party convention in Cambridge yesterday, Nader was invited to speak about the Red Sox plan by Citizens Against Stadium Subsidies, a newly formed local coalition opposed to the Red Sox project.

The coalition includes members of the Massachusetts Public Interest Group, Save Fenway Park, the Fenway Action Coalition, Citizens for Limited Taxation, Roxbury residents opposed to the team's plan to build satellite parking facilities for fans near the Ruggles MBTA Station, and several other groups.

While Fenway residents are sharply divided on the project, the team has won support from businesses and organized labor as well as some neighborhood activists.

However, the team has not outlined how it hopes to finance the project. Currently in talks with city and state officials, team officials hope to reach a consensus on how much public investment they might request within the next month or two.

The project includes a ballpark, major infrastructure improvements and two parking garages, and would require the city to take the proposed 14-acre new ballpark site, located adjacent to Fenway Park, by eminent domain.

Citing other ballpark projects across the country, sports financing specialists estimate that the Red Sox may need up to $250 million in public funds to build the project, which the team says it needs to compete with opponents who have or are building new ballparks.

Yesterday, team officials did not criticize Nader. Instead, they repeated arguments of ballpark boosters who say the project will generate additional tax revenues for the city and state.

"It's legitimate to discuss whether the public should invest in professional sports facilities, but here in Massachusetts, we've already crossed that threshold with the Patriots, the Bruins, and the Celtics," said a team spokeswoman, Kathyrn St. John.

"Our focus is to continue to work with our elected leaders to determine the best way to move forward with financing our new ballpark."

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