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Government leaders, Sox officials huddle on plans for new park

By Meg Vaillancourt, Globe Staff, 5/9/2000

tate and city political leaders held a summit meeting at the State House yesterday with Red Sox chief executive John Harrington to discuss plans for a new Fenway Park, with just 12 weeks left in the legislative session to consider the project.

Governor Paul Cellucci, Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham, House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, and Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino met with Harrington and team general manager Dan Duquette in Cellucci's office for over an hour.

It was the first face-to-face encounter among all the principals since the team proposed the new Fenway Park last year. The meeting was prompted by state leaders, who were recently surprised to learn that Menino's aides were quietly developing plans for a city-owned ballpark.

Although none of the participants would comment on yesterday's discussions, state officials last week privately expressed frustration that Menino had abandoned longstanding three-way talks between the city, state, and the team on how to fund the proposed $600 million ballpark.

The summit also comes at a crucial time for the team.

Nearly one year after Harrington unveiled the design for a new Fenway Park, the Red Sox are still struggling to find a financing plan that can be embraced by both state and city officials.

Birmingham, Finneran, and Cellucci have all offered encouraging words for the ballpark bid this year. But Menino, once the chief champion of a new ballpark, has offered decidedly mixed signals in recent weeks.

The Boston Globe reported two weeks ago that after ruling out a publicly owned ballpark plan last month, Menino's top aides were putting the final touches on a controversial proposal under which the city could invest up to $420 million in the new ballpark in exchange for a stake in the project.

While the Red Sox are expected to invest at least $80 million, much of the project would be funded through the sale of city-issued revenue bonds under the city's tentative plan.

But according to sources close to the mayor and city financing scenarios obtained by the Globe, a city-owned ballpark plan may not generate the revenue the Red Sox say they need to remain competitive. New revenue streams such as naming rights and personal seat licenses would go toward paying back the city, rather than be available for player salaries or other costs associated with running the team.

If the city contributes $420 million to the project, for example, it would need about $30 million a year from the new ballpark to recoup its costs over the next 30 years.

Yet acccording to estimates from Major League Baseball, a new ballpark may net between $25 million and $35 million in additional revenue, after expenses.

So if the city demands a 100 percent payback, the team probably would be left without enough additional revenue to pay escalating player salaries - the whole point of building the new ballpark in the first place.

Menino has not publicly endorsed the idea, but some of his advisers suggest the mayor is ''leaning toward'' the city-owned ballpark plan. Pressed for details, however, he declined to discuss any plans under review by his advisers.

''I'm just trying to get the best deal for the city,'' Menino said Friday. ''The Red Sox have to be more creative. But I'm not going to negotiate it in the newspaper.''

In talks with city and state officials over the past nine months, the team has discussed variations on two basic plans. One calls for the city to acquire and prepare the site, investing roughly $150 million, and for the Red Sox to build their own $350 million ballpark. The state would fund up roughly $50 million in infrastructure improvements, and possibly two parking garages also included in the team's plan.

The second scenario discussed by the Red Sox earlier this year called for the city to invest more in the project - possibly up to $420 million in exchange for an ownership stake. But the team abandoned the plan after Menino said in a televised interview last month that he ''did not want to be in the ballpark business.''

Then in recent weeks, the city once again reversed course and began working on its own plan. According to sources close to the mayor, several financing schemes for a city-owned ballpark remain under review. One option receiving intense scrutiny calls for the Boston to issue revenue bonds through the its Economic Development Industrial Corp. to pay for the project.

To pay back the bonds, the city has been eyeing a variety of ballpark revenue streams including ticket surcharges, advertising, a surcharge on ticket sales, a local ''tax'' on corporate luxury boxes, naming rights, personal seat licenses and the possible hike in ticket prices.

But those are the same revenue streams the Red Sox have been counting on to pay future increases in player salaries. And while the mayor may prefer to allow the Red Sox to shoulder the burden for some of the more politically unpopular ideas, such as renaming Fenway Park and imposing seat licenses, those alone will not give the Red Sox the revenues they need to compete with teams who now enjoy the lion's share of revenues generated by their new ballparks.

The city's tentative financing plans also carries huge risks. The plans, for example, appear to anticipate sellout crowds each year and include no fallback position if there is a baseball strike or if the team's performance suffers, leading to a falloff in attendance.

This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 5/9/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

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