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At what cost Fenway Park?

Critics say team hasn't budgeted enough for land acquisitions, but supporters disagree

By Richard Kindleberger, Globe Staff, 6/21/2000

he 15 acres wanted by the Red Sox for a stadium next to Fenway Park have become a crucial testing ground in the fight for a new Fenway.

Opponents of the $627 million project point at what they see as a crucial weakness: the $90 million cost projected by the Red Sox for acquiring the several blocks of low-rise commercial buildings and parking lots needed for the stadium. With real estate booming in the Fenway, the foes argue, the properties have become so valuable that buying them would cost much more and make the new stadium unacceptably expensive.


Fenway land rush
With the Red Sox committed to building a new park adjacent to Fenway Park, landowners in the neighborhood are hoping to obtain top dollar for their properties.

The charge is politically touchy because the team has suggested the city support the project by acquiring and paying for the site. Whatever it costs to acquire the properties would be paid by the city and its taxpayers.

''Whether it is public money or private money, the area is just too expensive'' for the new stadium, Rob Sargent, a staffer with the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, said in an interview. He said a conservative estimate of the cost of site acquisition would be $130 million.

But Sargent's argument illustrates a problem for the public and the city in assessing the Red Sox plan. The $130 million, cited by some critics as realistically a rock-bottom figure, is based on the assumption the Red Sox would need to buy all 15 acres earmarked for the new site. In fact, because 1.5 acres would come from the existing field and the park would pick up several acres free in discontinued streets, the amount of private property needed amounts to 10.5 acres, the team says.

In another instance of confusion, critics have contended the $90 million does not contain funds for relocating businesses from the site or demolishing the buildings afterward. Robert F. Walsh, the team's development adviser, said those activities would be covered. A separate $50 million proposed by the team would cover the cost of digging down 20 feet and sealing the site from groundwater. Depressing the field is aimed at keeping the stadium from looming too high above ground.

Sorting through the conflicting claims is made more difficult by the personal or financial involvement of many of the players. Neighborhood activists who want to sink the project, property owners who want to avoid losing their building, and eminent-domain lawyers who may be on the lookout for clients all have a reason to exaggerate the costs.

''I'm probably biased because I own a piece,'' commented developer Robert Epstein. His firm, the Abbey Group, is opening a $120 million office-retail complex, the Landmark Center, in the old Sears Roebuck & Co. building across Brookline Avenue.

The Red Sox and their corporate boosters, meanwhile, dismiss the challenges as exaggerated and unfounded.

Walsh said the team relied on confidential valuations by Boston real estate firms - identified by sources as Meredith & Grew and, for an earlier projection of $65 million, CB Richard Ellis/Whittier Partners. The estimates were supported by Boston Redevelopment Authority officials, said Walsh.

''I'm not being cavalier about this,'' Walsh said. ''I'm confident our estimates are solid, particularly based on the best indicator, the most recent sales.''

He referred to recent purchases by Steven Samuels of properties inside and next to the proposed site. Samuels, a developer who wants to build a commercial complex on the triangle between Brookline and Boylston streets, paid $11 million for 3.5 acres in the area in two deals that closed a year ago and last month.

That per-acre price of $3.1 million compares to $8.6 million budgeted for the private properties the new park would need to acquire. Of course, the $8.6 million for the Fenway site includes relocation and demolition funds. And the prices agreed to by Samuels were negotiated two years ago, a source said, and would be much higher if the deals were done today.

At the same time it wants the new properties, the team says it would sell off 5.5 acres from the old Fenway to help raise the $352 million investment it promises to put into the project. It figures on getting $46 million, or $8.4 million per acre, for that land.

The Red Sox are counting on negotiating special deals with the two largest owners on the site, the D'Angelo family's Twins Enterprises Inc. souvenir business and the Sage family's Howard Johnson's hotel on Boylston Street. Because both apparently want to stay in business near a new Fenway Park, the team thinks they'd be willing to accept less for their properties in return for being offered replacement space nearby. The two owners control 37 percent of the 10.5 acres in private hands.

Critics point at the city's experience in acquiring the 60-acre convention center site in South Boston as suggesting the $90 million would be insufficient for Fenway. City officials now predict $200 million in city and state funds are needed to acquire the 45 acres of the convention hall site in private hands. That figure is four times the 1997 assessed value of the properties.

The 25 properties in the new Fenway footprint were assessed at $48.7 million as of Jan. 1. At four times that amount, the cost would be twice the budget figure. Defenders of the Sox plan suggested the situations were not comparable because the massive amount of public infrastructure already spent in South Boston had raised real estate values by the time of last year's takings. But a commercial property owner in the Fenway said the accelerating boom there would likely put even more distance between assessed values and market prices by the time any properties were taken for a stadium.

Attorney Philip Cronin, an eminent-domain and land valuation specialist with Peabody & Arnold, said he couldn't conceive of the $90 million being sufficient. He thought the real estate around Fenway, with its greater pedestrian activity, is much more valuable than the property near the waterfront.

That was not the view of William F. McCall Jr., a 40-year real estate veteran in Boston. The partner in McCall & Almy, whose work includes valuations, said he thought the team's estimate was ''in the ballpark'' and that $90 million to $100 million ''is going to be reasonably close to where it is.''

This story ran on page C1 of the Boston Globe on 6/21/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.


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