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Menino, Sox get closer to ballpark financing deal

Mayor reportedly lays out plan he could back

By Meg Vaillancourt, Globe Staff, 6/30/2000

oston Mayor Thomas M. Menino emerged from another summit meeting with Red Sox chief John Harrington yesterday and said the two sides are ''getting closer'' to an agreement on how to finance the team's proposed $627 million Fenway Park project.

''We've had detailed discussions, and we made progress,'' Menino said. ''We've still got a ways to go, but I'm optimistic.''

The Red Sox, who have been negotiating intensely with the city for several weeks, echoed Menino's hopefulness, but declined to offer any specifics.

''We are still talking, and we are still making progress,'' Harrington said after yesterday's roughly one-hour meeting at the Parkman House.

Menino said talks were continuing by phone last night and that more meetings are being scheduled, possibly over the weekend.

The mayor has sought advice from a range of business leaders over the past few months, but yesterday's midmorning session was closer to a tete-a-tete. The only aides accompanying Menino and Harrington were the mayor's chief of staff, James Rooney, and the Red Sox's development adviser, Robert Walsh.

According to sources familiar with the talks, Menino yesterday outlined a ballpark financing plan he could support. The package included some of the increased fees, surcharges, and taxes that have been discussed in recent weeks, but sources said the city also offered some new ideas yesterday.

Menino refused to reveal his financing plan, but said it was based on his condition that the team must guarantee that any investment the city makes in the project will be repaid.

Neither side raised an idea floated by two city councilors this week, suggesting the ballpark could be built in part through revenue generated by a new lottery game, the sources said.

Some opponents of the Red Sox plan and other parties have floated a number of alternative sites in recent weeks, including developer Frank McCourt's land on the South Boston Waterfront; the so-called Crosstown area, the site of a former city incinerator; land near Suffolk Downs racetrack; and land along the Charlestown/Everett border that's owned by Les Marino, owner of Modern Continental construction company.

The mayor, though, said that he and Harrington did not discuss other sites or the prospect for a city-owned ballpark plan yesterday, sources said.

''Both sides are problem-solving and working at getting to yes,'' said a source familiar with yesterday's discussions.

Although both sides proclaimed progress, the city and the Red Sox will be unable to cement a deal without further talks with state leaders, whose approval is needed for the financing for necessary infrastructure.

A State House source who has been involved in the ballpark negotiations said: ''This is a five-way conversation. I can't imagine the team and the mayor will suddenly come out with their own side deal.''

It's clear, however, that negotiations have moved into hyperdrive. Shortly after yesterday's morning meeting, Governor Paul Cellucci offered to help ''close the deal'' by quickly hosting a meeting with the mayor, team officials, Senate President Thomas Birmingham, and House Speaker Thomas Finneran.

While all three state leaders have been generally supportive of the Red Sox proposal, Finneran has been the most skeptical. He has insisted, for example, that no state funds be used to purchase the 10 acres of private property needed to build the team's proposed $627 million ballpark project.

Harrington has asked the city to acquire the ballpark site and lease it to the Red Sox, who would privately finance the construction of their $352 million ballpark. A major sticking point in negotiations continues to be how the city can recoup the estimated $140 million needed to buy the site.

Finneran has said he would support providing up to $100 million in state aid for road work, pedestrian ways, and mass transit, utility and sewage improvements in the Fenway area as part of the ballpark project. Noting that infrastructure is traditionally the state's responsiblity, Finneran said the aid could be offered ''without requiring a dime of payback'' from the team.

''The deal will rise and fall on whether Menino and Finneran can agree on the payback,'' a State House source said.

As mayor, Menino has said he wants to protect city residents from shouldering the burden of paying for a new ballpark, while as speaker, Finneran, who is also a Boston resident, is seen as looking out for all the state's taxpayers.

Finneran has also said he will adhere to the principles he established during the battle over the New England Patriots' new stadium, including no state aid for site acquisition nor for development of a new privately owned sports facility.

Any ballpark financing plan must also win the support of the two other political leaders. While Cellucci is opposed to new taxes, he has signaled his willingness to consider transfering taxes already on the books to help fund a new Fenway Park.

Although generally viewed as supportive, Birmingham has been more circumspect about what financing mechanisms he would endorse.

The Red Sox have proposed a ''menu'' of revenue streams, including ticket and parking surcharges, an increase in the city's hotel tax, net new property taxes, and creation of a new district that would allow the city to retain new Fenway area sales and meals taxes that would otherwise go to the state.

The team says that together, the new fees would generate up to $20 million a year. Boston would need about $12 million a year to recoup $140 million, according to city officials.

But Menino has rejected some of the ideas and has been skeptical of others. In the past, he suggested the Red Sox should take on new partners, sell stock in the team to the public, or involve key nearby landowners in the ballpark development as a way to cut the city's land acquisition costs.

This story ran on page C01 of the Boston Globe on 6/30/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.


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