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Sox deal seen to build hotel near Fenway

The Boston Red Sox have launched a partnership to build a 200-room hotel and 160 condominiums at the foot of historic Fenway Park, according to an executive who helped negotiate the agreement.

The Red Sox have signed a letter of intent with the Sage family for a joint venture to tear down the family's aging 94-room Howard Johnson's motor lodge on Boylston Street and replace it with a hotel twice its size and market-rate condos, the executive said. The executive put the project's cost at about $140 million.

Spokesmen for the Red Sox and Sage family declined to comment yesterday.

The agreement reflects the Red Sox's strategy to control as much of the surrounding neighborhood as possible now that the team has committed to stay in Fenway, Major League Baseball's smallest park. It also gives the Red Sox ownership (which includes The New York Times Co., owner of The Boston Globe) a chance to participate in the development of what has come to be one of the hottest districts in the city.

Having committed to spend $100 million renovating the 1912 ballpark, Red Sox officials have been increasingly concerned about development around Fenway. In particular, they have been concerned about new towers that would obscure the open skyline from inside the park and compromise what they call ''the Fenway experience."

Partnering with Sage Co. to build on the Howard Johnson's site is both defensive and opportunistic for the Red Sox, as is the team's recent agreement with Boston developer John Rosenthal on the other side of Fenway Park.

After long opposing Rosenthal's plan for two condo towers in Kenmore Square behind the Green Monster, the Red Sox recently said they would support an amended plan and possibly form a partnership with Rosenthal in developing the project. The new proposal, which would shift the towers slightly west of the park above the Massachusetts Turnpike, would include 525 residential units, retail space, and a 560-car garage. Two public parking garages with a capacity of 1,800 cars would also be built over the turnpike to accommodate game-day parking and the Longwood hospitals nearby.

The Red Sox have also been buying properties in the neighborhood. Among them: the Town Taxi garage on Ipswich Street, and the McDonald's restaurant and WBCN radio studios, both on Boylston Street.

The Sage family has talked for years about redeveloping their low-rise, low-end Howard Johnson's near Fenway, creating the same kind of concerns about height that the Rosenthal project did. The executive familiar with the new plans for the site said the tallest part of the project would be on Boylston Street, away from the park.

It's not known what stake the Red Sox have in the joint venture, and an architect hasn't been hired yet.

''They don't want it to be higher than the ballpark," the executive said. He said the new hotel would not carry the Howard Johnson brand. The Sage family also operates a Radisson Hotel in Cambridge.

The Red Sox and other Fenway-Longwood businesses have also been lobbying for state money for transit and road improvements in the area. This month the Massachusetts Senate approved $55 million to improve access by road, rail and bus to Fenway Park and the hospitals. The House had earlier approved a package worth about $12.5 million.

Plans for the hotel and condo project are preliminary. It would need approval from the Boston Redevelopment Authority. But the Red Sox and Sage have not submitted anything to the BRA, a spokeswoman said yesterday. And they have yet to approach neighborhood groups, which in general have been supportive of the team's moves in the area.

Steve Bailey can be reached at or at 617-929-2902.

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