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Finneran tells Sox to find more money for a new Fenway

By Meg Vaillancourt, Globe Staff, 5/24/2000

ouse Speaker Thomas M. Finneran yesterday took a hard line on public subsidies for the proposed $627 million Fenway Park project, urging the Red Sox to find millions more in private financing and rejecting a proposal to share revenues generated by state-funding parking garages with the city and the team.

''All of the possible private parties should be approached first before the first public dollar is put in,'' Finneran said in a speech before the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. ''I don't think that's been done or even fully explored.''

A day before a crucial House caucus on the new Fenway Park, Finneran urged the team to reconsider ideas it has rejected, including taking on new partners, obtaining more financing from Major League Baseball, and selling the public shares in the team.

The Red Sox, in a proposal unveiled Friday, asked for a public investment of $275 million in the project while offering to pay $352 million to build a 44,130-seat ballpark.

Under the plan, the state would spend $82 million to build two parking garages, one of which would be located on land partly owned by the Red Sox. Team officials hoped the state would give a portion of parking revenues to the city to help offset the $140 million it would spend on land for the new ballpark and site preparation. The Red Sox also wanted a cut of the revenues to help fund the team's portion of the project.

But Finneran said yesterday that the state should keep all the parking revenues if it builds the garages.

''It would be highly inappropriate for the state to build these garages and then surrender the revenue that is generated by them,'' Finneran said, taking a position similar to the one he staked out during debate over the New England Patriots' new stadium. ''If the state is in it for 100 percent of the financing, it should get 100 percent of the revenues.''

While taking a hard line on parking revenues, Finneran said he would support state funding for ''traditional'' infrastructure, including roadwork, new mass transit, and utility costs. He estimated such improvements would cost ''in excess of $100 million,'' roughly twice the $53 million figure included in the Red Sox proposal.

The additional infrastructure costs would raise the price tag of the project, already the most expensive project in Major League Baseball, to $670 million.

''Before you get into the price for building a garage, let alone two garages, the cost for infrastructure will be well over $100 million,'' Finneran said.''And we are prepared to do that without a nickel back because that is an appropriate role for the state.''

Although some Sox boosters fear Finneran's tough demands could thwart the team's bid to get a ballpark bill passed this year, the speaker insisted there is still enough time to move the project forward before lawmakers adjourn in July.

''I believe the team might get some encouragement from the fact that we are prepared to commit to the infrastructure aspect of the project without adding any burden of payback,'' Finneran said. ''It's still doable this year - as long as the Red Sox agree to an appropriately limited role for the taxpayers.''

Finneran said that the team should explore ways to reduce the amount of public money it is seeking. Although Red Sox chief executive John Harrington had already said he will ask the team's limited partners to contribute more toward the project, Finneran suggested the team should also consider accepting new partners.

''I'm not a marriage broker,'' Finneran said. ''But you hear a lot of names tossed around of people whose life dream is to own a piece of the Sox.''

The speaker also suggested the Red Sox sell stock, just as the Celtics did in 1986 when the basketball team raised $48 million. ''People would love to put a piece of paper of their wall saying they owned a part of the Red Sox. I bet they could raise $100 million in three days if they did that.''

Finneran said that some of the team's troubles were ''self-inflicted'' because Major League Baseball has rejected necessary structural reforms. The organization ''has to have real revenue sharing and a salary cap,'' Finneran said. ''They just can't look to the taxpayers for a solution.''

Governor Paul Cellucci said yesterday that he was ''encouraged'' by Finneran's remarks and that he hopes to schedule a meeting with Finneran, Senate President Thomas Birmingham, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, and the Red Sox early next week to try to hammer out a general agreement on how to fund the project.

Cellucci has already agreed to share parking revenues with the city and state and has said he would support a slight increase in the city's hotel tax to help the city recoup some of the money spent for land acquisition.

Finneran also endorsed Menino's call for a plan that included a substantial payback to the city for any investment it makes in the project. Although he ruled out sharing parking revenues from state-funded garages, Finneran has said he would support giving the city unspecified ''revenue streams'' to help the city recover its investment.

Menino and Birmingham were unavailable for comment. Both have called for a meeting to push the ballpark project forward.

Red Sox officials said Finneran's comments were ''pretty consistent'' with conversations the team has had with lawmakers. ''We will consider any options that our elected officials want us to review,'' said team spokeswoman Kathryn St. John.

In his address yesterday, Finneran also seemed to question whether the city can legally take 15 acres of privately owned Fenway property for a new ballpark. Citing a recent ruling that blocked land-takings for a minor league project in Springfield, Finneran noted, ''The judge said there was no rational basis for using eminent domain to build a ballpark in Springfield.''

The team's attorneys insist, however, that the land takings will pass muster as long as there is legislative approval.

Despite the speaker's tough talk, supporters of a new ballpark say they are optimistic that the Legislature can adopt a ballpark bill before adjournment on July 31.

''Look at the new convention center, the FleetCenter and the Patriots' new stadium - these things always go up to the brink,'' said Pat Moscaritolo, president of the Greater Boston Convention Center and Visitors Bureau. ''It's all part of the negotiation process in this town. It's how the sausage is made. It may not be pretty, but in the end you get a product you like.''

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