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Meeting to tackle Sox bid

Key officials to mull team's request for $275m in public funds

By Meg Vaillancourt, Globe Staff, 5/31/2000

he four key political players at the center of the Red Sox ballpark saga will meet in Governor Paul Cellucci's office today to try to hammer out a tentative agreement on the team's request for $275 million in public funds for a new Fenway Park.

Cellucci will join Senate President Thomas Birmingham, House Speaker Thomas Finneran, and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino at the afternoon session. But in a signal there is some doubt about whether all four leaders want to push a ballpark bill through this year, Red Sox chief John Harrington was not invited to the State House summit.

With less than eight weeks remaining before lawmakers adjourn until 2001, the outcome of this afternoon's meeting could determine the fate of a new Fenway Park.

''If there's no agreement on how to approach this, no one wants to prolong the agony so it may be put off until the future,'' said a source close to the talks. ''On the other hand, if there's a way to get to yes, then it'll be worth the time it'll take to get it done.''

The political leaders also might revisit the idea of creating a stadium authority to build a publicly owned ballpark, instead of the team's privately owned ballpark plan.

''It wouldn't be a total shock if the project took an entirely different shape following the meeting,'' one source said. ''If there's no general agreement on the Red Sox proposal, a new stadium authority or some kind of publicly owned ballpark could rise again.''

Earlier this year, the Red Sox and city and state officials spent months developing a plan for a publicly owned ballpark. But in April, Menino rejected it, saying he ''didn't want to be in the ballpark business.'' The Red Sox abandoned it and moved forward with their plan, under which the team would build the $352 million ballpark.

But as the Globe has reported, Menino's aides, including chief of staff James Rooney, continued to develop an alternative city-owned ballpark plan. It is unclear how the city would raise up to $627 million to build the entire project.

Rooney met with key aides to Finneran, Cellucci and Birmingham yesterday. Given Menino's past battles with Finneran over financing for the new convention center, Rooney may have been pressing for new revenue streams needed to help the city recoup its $140 million investment in the proposed new ballpark site.

However, Rooney also floated the tentative city-owned ballpark plan. Because the city could use its bonding authority to borrow money at a cheaper rate than the team, a publicly owned ballpark would cost much less than the team's plan. The state also might be asked to guarantee part of the project.

Menino yesterday declined to comment on the still-developing alternative plan. But in contrast to his recent tough talk on the Sox plan, the mayor held out hope for a breakthrough in the financing talks. ''We have a ways to go, but we hope to see some common ground between all the parties,'' Menino said. ''We'd like to have a ballpark bill by July 31st.''

At the same time, Finneran appeared to up the ante on the Sox yesterday. House members, he warned, may not agree to fund $82 million for the two garages included in the Red Sox plan.

''My sense is there may be some preliminary preference for not having the state involved in the garages at all if there were other parties that would step forward'' to build them, Finneran said. ''There's a threshold question as to whether we should be in the business of constructing and operating ... garages.''

However, the state is already in the parking business, with garages at Boston Common, the Transportation Building, the FleetCenter, and the new convention center. The state also agreed to fund parking improvements for the New England Patriots last year.

Finneran, who has said the state could fund up to $100 million in infrastructure improvements without any payback, did not rule out state funds for Fenway garages. It's estimated they could produce up to $11 million a year.

''I'd think a prorated return on one's investment is not inappropriate,'' Finneran said. ''If the state is in for 50 percent, we should have 50 percent of the revenues. If we put in 100 percent, we get 100 percent.''

Meanwhile, Harrington and Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette privately pitched the team's ballpark plan to Boston city councilors. Accompanying the Red Sox were several consultants with close ties to Menino and other city officials, including development adviser Robert Walsh, his associate and former adviser to Menino and former mayor Ray Flynn, Joseph Fisher, and former City Council president Joseph Tierney.

The wooing took place behind closed doors in Council President James Kelly's office. Mindful of the state's open meeting laws, Kelly rotated members in and out of his office, carefully avoiding a quorum. According to several sources, the Red Sox made some headway with a few members who had publicly criticized the team's plan.

''They know we have an important say in the land takings needed to build the ballpark,'' said City Councilor Brian Honan.''They made some strong arguments, but I told them they have to guarantee that Boston taxpayers will be able to get their investment back. At this point, they haven't come close.''

This story ran on page D1 of the Boston Globe on 5/31/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

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