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Menino, Sox deal seen as soon as next week

By Meg Vaillancourt, Globe Staff, 07/01/2000

fter more than a year of negotiations, Mayor Thomas Menino and the Boston Red Sox are edging closer to a financing agreement, and some boosters of a new ballpark believe a deal could be sewed up over the holiday weekend or sometime next week. As negotiations continued yesterday, Menino said he "felt good" about the "spirit of cooperation" surrounding the talks and reiterated that he was "optimistic" a ballpark bill could soon hit Beacon Hill.

But even as city and team officials exchanged weekend telephone numbers and Fourth of July schedules, it was clear that without the approval of state leaders, no ballpark agreement could be finalized.

"City officials have been very mindful of the crucial role the state would play in any ballpark deal," said one source close to the negotiations yesterday.

Since the state must agree to give Menino additional powers to collect the new revenues required to recoup the city's investment, insiders stress that no side deals can be made without a nod from Governor Paul Cellucci, Senate President Thomas Birmingham, and House Speaker Thomas Finneran.

The project also is dependent on funds from the state for necessary additions of infrastructure.

"There's been progress so there could be a preliminary agreement," said another source familiar with the financing talks. "But without the state, there is no deal."

Menino, however, was decidedly upbeat yesterday, joking with reporters who peppered him with questions about the proposed $627 million ballpark project at a press conference intended to promote a youth summer-jobs program.

The mayor, who directed the team to build its new home along side the current one in the Fenway neighborhood, also ruled out alternative sites, including a plan that recently surfaced calling for the team to expand the current ballpark by building over air rights on the Massachusetts Turnpike.

While proponents have argued the turnpike air-rights scheme could save the city land-acquisition costs, the Red Sox and the mayor have argued it would be too expensive and that there was no appropriate place for the team to play while construction was under way.

Menino also shrugged off city councilors who have criticized him for not bringing them into the closed-door negotiations with the team. The council must approve the land-taking required under the Red Sox plan, but unlike state lawmakers their sessions do not end next month, so there is not a tight deadline for the council's deliberations.

"I understand [how members might feel] because I was there too," said Menino recalling his days as a city councilor. "But my position is the CEO of the city . . . and I have to be sure we get a deal that works for the city . . . We need a return on our investment."

Menino has suggested the Red Sox could help the city cap its estimated $140 million land-acquisition costs by bringing two key Fenway land owners into the ballpark development deal. He specifically pointed to the Sage family, owners of a Boylston Street hotel, and the D'Angelos, owners of a string of souvenir shops surrounding Fenway Park.

The two businesses control more than 35 percent of the land that would have to be seized for a new ballpark. If the Red Sox agreed to a land swap or crafted an in-the-ballpark business deal, for example, the two major land owners might agree to sell their parcels at much lower prices, drastically reducing the city's tab.

While the Red Sox believe they are close to deal with Sage, there is no agreement with the D'Angelos, who are by far the largest landowner in the new ballpark footprint. However, development sources argue that the team must first agree with city and state officials before the Red Sox can commit to such an expensive undertaking. They note that any land swaps and inside the park deals will undercut the team's ability to finance its part of the project. The Sox have pledged to privately finance the cost of building the $352 million ballpark and any construction cost overruns, a commitment even the team has acknowledged will be "very difficult."

This story ran on page C01 of the Boston Globe on 7/01/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

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