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A home run to Southie?

By Brian McGrory, Globe Staff, 6/22/2001

I'd be willing to bet my Rico Petrocelli-autographed baseball that there's not a self-respecting Red Sox fan in New England who's ever uttered the words, ''Boy, I hope the team builds a new stadium in Revere or Everett.''

Imagine driving down Route 1A, past oil tanks and a dog track, to go see Pedro pitch. Imagine the days when rush hour at the airport would combine with game day traffic to create one gigantic mass of stalled steel. Imagine boarding the Blue Line to get to the park. The Blue Line, for God's sake - isn't that what people take to see the seals at the aquarium?

The possibility remains too distinct. The Red Sox are for sale. Fenway Park is rotting at its core. The current proposal to build a ballyard adjacent to the existing one is virtually dead, victim of an unrealistic funding plan.

Now along comes Jimmy Kelly, the sometimes acerbic protector of all things Southie, to talk sense and ease fears, adding his considerable weight to others in the community willing to revisit the waterfront site.

Any right-thinking person in this town knows that the best site for a new park is on the waterfront, where fans could walk to games from their downtown offices or South Station, ride the new Silver Line, or take the new turnpike extension right into the shadows of the field.

Problem is, five years ago, South Boston activists - Kelly most prominent among them - slammed the door shut on Bob Kraft's proposal to build a football stadium on their waterfront, killing the plan in what seemed like record time. Now they're nudging the door back open.

''Then it was the football stadium or nothing,'' Kelly said in an interview earlier this week. ''The easy choice was to take the latter. This is different. It's either a baseball park or it would be a number of hotels and office buildings and residential buildings. There will be something developed on the waterfront.

''I'm hearing from people who are strongly opposed, and I'm also hearing from people who think that if we're going to have something developed, a park with 81 games a year and taking up all that space will have less of a negative impact. The jury is still out.''

Menino has been opposed to a waterfront site, but his opposition may soften as he sees the existing Fenway plan unravel. He has mended his bitter feud with Frank McCourt, the waterfront landowner where a new park could be built, and he has based his opposition around a belief that voter-rich Southie would be opposed to any stadium. What if it's not?

Kelly says that worries remain, most notably traffic. He wants to see studies and projections on Silver Line ridership. He wants to be assured that public parking spaces will be kept at a minimum. He wants to see a master plan from McCourt to learn what else would be built on the 25-acre swath.

A park, though, would take up a lot of space where office buildings and condominiums might be built, and Kelly likes that.

Kelly added: ''A lot of people over the past six months have gotten the idea in mind and are giving it some thought and talking about it with family and friends. It has taken a step beyond where it was just a month ago.''

McCourt wants very much to build a stadium on his property, probably trading land for an ownership stake in the team. He is meeting with South Boston community groups - quietly, though, so as not to alienate the mayor.

But the equation is complicated enough to cause a skull ache. For McCourt to make a deal, the current Fenway proposal needs to be pulled off life support. The mayor has to come around to the waterfront. South Boston has to welcome the stadium. And all this has to occur before the team is sold and committed elsewhere.

Probable? Probably not. But who would have thought the Nomar-less Sox would be holding first place late in June?

Brian McGrory can be reached by e-mail at mcgrory@globe.com.

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 6/22/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

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