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Seaport ballpark idea revived

S. Boston councilor urges plan review after talks with landowner

By Meg Vaillanourt, Globe Staff, 6/21/2001

Breathing new life into an idea rejected by city officials a few years ago, City Councilor Michael Flaherty yesterday became the first South Boston political leader to call publicly for a review of plans for a new waterfront ballpark in South Boston's Seaport area.

''It's time to stop ignoring the possibility of a waterfront ballpark,'' Flaherty said. ''My community deserves a chance to review all of the development options for the waterfront.

''In my opinion, a ballpark will have less of an impact on the residents of the neighborhood than full-scale commercial development,'' he added. ''So for the good of South Boston and the entire city, let's examine the opportunity.''

Flaherty's comments came after he and several other South Boston officials met with developer Frank McCourt, who owns more than 25 acres near the new convention center now under construction along the waterfront. McCourt has been quietly promoting a new stadium for the Boston Red Sox on his property, currently being used as huge parking lots.

In recent weeks, McCourt has discussed the idea with City Councilor James Kelly, state Representative Jack Hart, and state Senator Stephen Lynch, sources said. Lynch is running for the congressional seat held by the late Joseph Moakley. Although Moakley was close to McCourt, he repeatedly said he could not support a new ballpark in the area because South Boston residents opposed it.

Flaherty, however, said his informal polls at coffee shops and gas stations suggest Southie's sentiment about a new ballpark may have shifted.

According to several sources, McCourt has also briefed Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who has publicly said he still thinks the Red Sox should build a new home in the Fenway area, where the team has played since 1912.

Over five years ago, the Sox were eyeing a ballpark in the area, but when Patriots owner Robert Kraft proposed a waterfront stadium, South Boston political leaders handed him his helmet. Concerned that a similar Red Sox proposal would also raise a firestorm, Menino then directed the baseball team to remain in the Fenway.

McCourt, however, recently hired Menino's point man in South Boston, Joseph Nee, who has attended McCourt's ballpark briefings with political leaders. McCourt has also moved to repair his rift with Menino, caused by McCourt's opposition to the Pritzker family's massive waterfront project, which the mayor had championed.

McCourt was not among the early round of bidders approved to review the Red Sox's confidential financial records, but he still has time to submit the required papers before the team calls for bids. On the other hand, since the Sox are a cash-only sale, McCourt may prefer to simply build support for his site and wait to see who wins the Sox bidding war and try to team up with them afterward.

Supporters of McCourt's idea note that it would avoid some of the most controversial aspects of the Red Sox plan included in the bill passed by state lawmakers last year. Since McCourt owns the site, the Boston Redevelopment Authority would not have to take land by eminent domain, and the city wouldn't have to pay $140 million for the proposed site.

Advocates of a Seaport-area stadium also argue that the transfer of the $100 million in state infrastructure funds included in the ballpark bill would go a long way toward solving the neighborhood's traffic and public transit problems. A waterfront ballpark similar to the popular and privately funded Pacific Bell Park in San Francisco could also help jump-start ancillary development needed to lure clients to the new convention center.

Some observers have even whispered that after this fall's elections, political leaders may float a plan to build a new ballpark on the city-owned land no longer needed for the new convention center. While the city has already purchased 60 acres for the new center, cost overruns forced officials to slash the size of the project. Skeptics, however, note that Menino ruled out a municipally owned ballpark last year.

McCourt reviewed his plan with John Harrington at spring training, but the Red Sox chief did not sign onto the proposal. However, there has been no progress on the team's proposal to build a ballpark on privately owned land adjacent to Fenway Park.

Sports analysts suggest that to ensure the trust gets the highest price for the storied franchise, the Red Sox are better off acknowledging alternative sites in Boston and just outside city limits. If a number of options are on the table, bidders are more likely to believe a new ballpark can be built, thereby maintaining the maximum value for the team, the analysts said.

Meg Vaillancourt can be reached by e-mail at vaillancourt@globe.com.

This story ran on page C1 of the Boston Globe on 6/21/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

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