The Boston Red Sox are leaning strongly toward undertaking major renovations at Fenway Park and hope to develop a master plan for rebuilding the oldest and smallest ballpark in the major leagues by the end of the season.
Principal owner John Henry said any renovations of the ballpark would add a maximum of 5,000 seats, bringing capacity to no more than 40,000 fans. "I love Fenway,'' Henry said in an interview from Fenway Park last night. "I don't think you can replicate the magic you have here. It would never feel like Fenway.''
Henry's statements are the strongest suggestion to date that the owners of the Red Sox would prefer to remain at their home for the past 92 years, rather than build a new ballpark in the same neighborhood or in another section of the city.
Henry said he would not be seeking public assistance in renovating the park.
Since buying the team, the ballpark, and its TV network in 2002 for $660 million, Henry and his partners have steadily added seats and increased revenue at Fenway, while trying carefully to maintain the character of the park. The team has added seats above the Green Monster, on the roof in right field, and along both the
first- and third-base lines _ about 1,500 in all. In addition, the Sox have created a new concourse by closing off Yawkey Way on game days, and added concession areas, bathrooms, and turnstiles. Now, Henry said, it is time to know what Fenway can ultimately be. That will certainly include adding more seats, but Henry said Fenway's capacity is likely to remain under 40,000. "I'm not in favor of going above 40,000," he said, "and I doubt our neighbors would be extraordinarily happy to go above that. . . . I'm not sure it would be in the best interest of the park."
In separate interviews, Larry Lucchino, the Red Sox president, and Janet Marie Smith, the architect who has been overseeing the renovations, said the team is looking at a broad range of ideas. "The idea is doing a series of smaller things that fit with our goal to continue to play in Fenway while the improvements are underway," Smith said.
Among ideas being considered:
Adding to the four rows of seats now on the roof on both the right-field and left-field sides of the park.
Building an office building behind the park at the corner of Ipswich and Lansdowne streets, which could allow the team to shift offices from inside the park and free up space for fans.
Removing the glass on the .406 Club behind home plate, an idea Smith says is favored by many fans.
Expanding the players' clubhouse, now the smallest in the major leagues.
Converting a former bowling alley owned by nightclub entrepreneur Patrick Lyons into a restaurant or similar entertainment facility.
Henry "is interested in knowing how the pieces fit together," Smith said.
"It is fair to say we are not looking to change the course we are on," Smith said. "We're very pleased with the level of improvement we have done each year. The best compliment we get is that it looks like it has been there forever."
Added Smith: "For the foreseeable future, the goal is for us to stay in Fenway Park."
The team's former chief executive, John Harrington, considered renovation of Fenway Park but ultimately proposed a $600 million plan to build a new ballpark on adjacent land in the city's Fenway neighborhood. Harrington won approval from the state Legislature to build a new 44,000-seat park. Harrington then gave up his plan to build a new park, opting instead to put the team up for sale.
Seth Gitell, a spokesman for Mayor Thomas M. Menino, said the mayor hasn't been informed about a possible new batch of changes to Fenway Park. He said it would be premature to comment before Red Sox officials have an opportunity to outline their proposal for city officials. "Nothing has been presented at this time, and we're awaiting any kind of presentation the Red Sox might make," Gitell said.
Steve Bailey can be reached at email@example.com or at 617-929-2902.