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Build ballpark to fix Fenway

By Adrian Walker, Globe Columnist, 6/24/2000

ssuming they can agree on even this much, Mayor Thomas M. Menino and the Boston Red Sox brain trust will spend part of this weekend getting better acquainted and trying to cut a deal for a new Fenway Park.

There is one major obstacle to an agreement: money, in the form of the $140 million the Red Sox are seeking from the city. But some residents have tried to make hay of a second issue, the impact a new stadium would have on the neighborhood.

That one is a lot more puzzling, even to some inhabitants of the Fens. The area the proposed ballpark would displace isn't romantic, historic, or even especially attractive, but to City Councilor Michael Ross, whose district includes the Fenway neighborhood, the ballpark is a potential travesty.

Ross's recent comments have ranged from suggesting that the design process be restarted to saying that the Sox should move to a different neighborhood if they aren't willing to substantially downsize the 15.5 acre plan that's on the table.

Central to Ross's gripe is that the proposal calls for the park to border Boylston Street, which he views as depriving the neighborhood of one of the major threads pulling it together. Boylston Street, he says, could be the same kind of neighborhood attraction that Newbury Street is in the Back Bay.

''What the Red Sox need to say is, `This plan is a mistake. We are wiping it off the table. We are going to conduct a planning process,''' Ross said yesterday. ''With that kind of sensitivity, maybe they can build in the Fenway.''

Walking down Boylston Street around the ballpark, it's hard to recognize it as a jewel that would be stripped from the city's crown if Fenway were rebuilt. Making changes here isn't like putting skyscrapers on Boston Common.

In principle, I'm in favor of a new ballpark in the Fenway. I was even more strongly in favor of a new Fenway on the waterfront, but the political quagmire in South Boston makes revisiting that proposal impossible. Rightly or not, the Red Sox have little choice but to stay where they are.

Fenway Park is a hardball shrine. It's also too small, too cramped, and dilapidated. Fenway cannot be renovated into a 21st century ballpark. It really can't.

The Red Sox have badly mishandled the public relations and lobbying on this project. (Building a stadium on other people's land with other people's money gets tricky.) After unveiling their initial vision for the park, they should have begun working with the neighborhood to build consensus on the design. Their repesentatives said yesterday they are still open to that - and moving some of the displaced businesses into the ball park would go a long way toward repairing tattered goodwill - but it hasn't happened.

Menino has been cuffed around for his treatment of the Sox, who have sold the idea that he promised them his support and then went south. Granting that he has been less than consistent, what's wrong with the mayor saying there's a limit to the corporate welfare even the Red Sox can expect?

Sounding as if he would love nothing more than to get this mess over with, Menino said yesterday that resolution rests largely in the hands of the Sox. He said he still believes a bill can be passed before the Legislature goes out of session this summer.

''I'm a big fan; I'm the first cheerleader for them,'' Menino said. ''But you can't let emotions carry the day. All I'm looking for is a return.''

The details of any new ballpark will be debated for some time, and they probably should be. But that debate should take place with the understanding that the park will happen.

The Fenway is one of the more underdeveloped neighborhoods in the city. While Ross panders to a small band of constituents, the reality is the status quo has done little to attract development or permanent housing to the Fenway. Perhaps he is simply representing his district, but we have seen in the past month what this kind of parochialism engenders. A new ballpark may not be a panacea, but it's hard to see what comes from more months of stalling.

The new park should be built sooner, rather than later; it will benefit the neighborhood and the city as a whole. Perhaps even this morning Menino and John Harrington will sit in the Parkman House together and try to reach agreement. I hope when they walk out they are announcing a step forward, rather than a long step backward.

Adrian Walker's e-mail address is walker@globe.com.

This story ran on page B01 of the Boston Globe on 6/24/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.


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