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Cellucci says lawmakers unfair to Sox

By Meg Vaillancourt, Globe Staff, 5/25/2000

aying the Boston Red Sox are being held to a higher standard than other sports teams that sought state help for new stadiums, Governor Paul Cellucci yesterday challenged lawmakers, including members of his own party, to support the Red Sox plan for a new Fenway Park.

Cellucci, one of the strongest political advocates for the Red Sox in their quest to build a $627 million ballpark, said he was particularly surprised by the opposition to the team's plans since most lawmakers, including House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, supported last year's bill allocating $70 million in state infrastructure funds for the New England Patriots' new football stadium in Foxborough.

''The Red Sox are offering the state a better deal in terms of payback'' than the Patriots did, Cellucci said. ''So why would people who voted for the Foxboro deal last year now turn around and criticize the the Red Sox request? I just don't get it.''

Under the original Patriots bill that Cellucci and Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham proposed, the state would have received a payback of $2.2 million a year from the football team for 25 years in exchange for its $70 million aid package, Cellucci argued.

In contrast, the bill that was adopted last year - after the Patriots had announced they were moving to Connecticut - calls for the state to collect a payback of $1.4 million on $70 million.

''By my calculations, the state lost $20 million because it waited to do the Patriots deal later,'' Cellucci said. ''I don't want to go down the road of delaying and driving up the cost again. Let's follow the Foxborough model and get this deal done.''

Finneran, whose tough negotiations with the Patriots nearly drove the team to Hartford, rejected Cellucci's analysis. ''The governor should take a remedial math class,'' the speaker shot back yesterday after a reporter repeated Cellucci's remarks.

Emerging from a caucus with House members called to discuss the plans for a new Fenway Park, Finneran said it was still possible a ballpark bill could be passed this year. But he warned that his colleagues had ''no appetite'' for a tentative proposal by the Red Sox to share revenue from two state-built garages with the city and the team.

Before and after the House caucus, protesters who oppose using public money for a private sports facility distributed leaflets to lawmakers, urging them to reject the team's plan.

Under the Sox plan, the garages would generate about $11 million a year in revenue, far more than the state needs to service the debt for its $82 million investment in the garages. Citing the Foxborough model, the team was seeking an unspecified cut of game-day parking revenue.

''We don't see the proposal as outlined by the Red Sox as anywhere close to the Foxboro model,'' Finneran said. ''Particularly all the loose talk about giving up revenues, when we would build the garages.''

Finneran also reiterated his call for the team to find new partners to finance a larger portion of the plan than the $352 million the team has offered. However, he was more conciliatory on providing new revenue streams needed to help the city recoup the $140 million it would invest to acquire land and clean up the proposed ballpark site.

In particular, Finneran said he would support allowing the city to use a small increase in the hotel tax to help fund its investment in the 44,130-seat ballpark. The tax, already on the books to fund land costs associated with the new convention center, is not expected to be needed for that project.

The state could easily authorize using the tax for the ballpark project, Finneran said. Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino simply has not asked for that yet, he said. Cellucci has endorsed the idea.

''We've given the mayor the capacity to hike the tax,'' Finneran said, ''and if he wanted to transfer it, we wouldn't have any trouble with that. We support the mayor's push for more of a payback, and if this could help do that, I can't imagine anyone would want to block it.''

Menino was reluctant to comment yesterday. He was not surprised by the speaker's refusal to share garage revenue, he said. The mayor also called for the Sox to accept new partners.

''Speaker Finneran is saying the same thing I'm saying,'' Menino said. ''There has to be more private funds in the deal, and we need to get our money back.''

Asked whether he would petition lawmakers to transfer the hotel tax hike, Menino answered : ''I'm not going to negotiate this in the media.''

Yesterday, Red Sox chief executive John Harrington and general manager Dan Duquette pitched the team's financing plan to sports writers and television reporters at a meeting in Fenway Park's 600 Club. They stressed that the Red Sox need a new ballpark to remain competitive.

''We understand we have to maximize private invetsment and be sure that the public gets a sufficient return on any investment by the city and state,'' said the team's spokeswoman, Kathyrn St. John. ''So we are exploring all of the ideas lawmakers have proposed. It's our goal to get the project done this year.''

State and city leaders are expected to sit down with Red Sox officials early next week to try to hammer out a financing agreement.

Globe Staff writer Michael Rezendes contributed to this report.

This story ran on page C01 of the Boston Globe on 5/25/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.


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