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Back in the game

Leaders show support for ballpark at S. Boston site

By Meg Vaillancourt, Globe Staff, 7/3/2001

Four years ago, South Boston politicians and residents rejected Robert Kraft's proposal to build a football stadium on the waterfront with such vehemence that Boston Red Sox chief executive John Harrington decided not to formally propose a new ballpark in the neighborhood - even though he had spent several years planning a stadium just across Fort Point Channel from the downtown business district.

Yet in the past few weeks, several of those same political leaders have promoted the idea that the Olde Towne Team should build its new home in The Town.

The four sites suddenly sparking talk of a new South Boston ballpark include 25 acres owned by developer Frank McCourt; 18 of the 60 acres purchased for the new South Boston convention center but not currently needed for the slimmed-down project; land along Fort Point Channel once eyed by the current owners of the Red Sox; and land along the Reserved Channel that Kraft proposed as the location for a football stadium.

All of the sites are within a mile or so of one another, but according to many Southie community leaders, they may as well be an ocean apart. While it's still early in the ballpark siting game, McCourt's campaign appears to be winning the most public support among South Boston leaders.

''The Massport site, the convention center, and the Fort Point Channel area ... are all too close to residential areas,'' Councilor James M. Kelly of South Boston said yesterday. ''The only site that might work is McCourt's, and there are still important questions to be answered there. But I couldn't envision myself endorsing a ballpark on any of the other sites.''

Although he stopped short of publicly supporting the idea, Kelly's colleague and fellow South Boston resident, Councilor at Large Michael F. Flaherty Jr., has been even more encouraging about a ballpark on McCourt's site.

''McCourt's site is closer to downtown and to a number of key transit links,'' Flaherty said. ''The other sites are all nonstarters as far as I'm concerned.''

McCourt declined to comment on his plan, but in closed-door meetings over the past few months, he's been quietly wooing public opinion leaders in South Boston, City Hall, and on Beacon Hill. According to those who have heard his pitch, he's stressed his site's proximity to the proposed new Silver Line transit connection and the planned interchange between the Massachusetts Turnpike and the Central Artery. McCourt also argues that a ballpark on his land, now being used for parking lots, would also lure business to the new convention center under construction just around the corner.

''The community realizes that something is going to get built on the site, and a lot of people think that huge office towers and million-dollar condos are going to generate a lot more traffic than a ballpark, '' said South Boston realtor Jackie Rooney, whose South Boston Online newspaper editorialized in favor of the idea. ''I think it's really gaining momentum. ... You don't see any of the key players saying it's dead on arrival.''

But at a meeting with South Boston leaders Friday, McCourt upped the ante. He said he was interested in building a ballpark on his land only if he could be a majority owner of the Red Sox, according to two sources who attended the meeting.

McCourt still has time to submit the $25,000 application fee and paperwork necessary to bid on the Red Sox. However, Harrington has ruled that land cannot be part of the bid. The team, he said, will be sold for ''cash only.'' Since most analysts expect bidding for the Yawkey Trust's controlling interest in the Red Sox could reach $400 million, it appears McCourt must either make a cash bid or take on partners.

Two other South Boston sites being eyed by Red Sox bidders have been floated before: on Massport-owned land near the Reserved Channel, and along Fort Point Channel near Gillette. Although South Boston rejected Kraft's plan, the Massachusetts Port Authority and Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino have been talking about a swap under which Massport would gain waterfront land in the city's nearby Marine Industrial Park in exchange for some of Massport's land.

In that case, some argue, the city could either lease the newly acquired site to the new Red Sox owners or build a new publicly owned ballpark for the team. However that scheme would require the creation of a stadium authority - an idea Menino rejected when the current Red Sox owners proposed it for a new ballpark in Fenway last year.

Meanwhile, one group of bidders has been researching a site along the Fort Point Channel - near where Harrington once planned to build the team's new ballpark, with encouragement from the Boston Redevelopment Authority. But that support dried up after South Boston leaders rejected the Patriots, and Menino then directed the team to build its new home back in the Fenway. Since then, Gillette has purchased 11 acres along the channel where the team had hoped to build a waterfront ballpark. A spokesman for Gillette yesterday ruled out leasing or selling the land, saying it was needed for future expansion.

The final South Boston site frequently mentioned is on the 18 acres of land that are not being used for the new convention center. Although the city has already seized 60 acres for the project, cost overruns recently prompted officials to slash the size of the project. A new ballpark could be built on as few as 11 acres, but it is unclear whether state lawmakers would support using the land for a ballpark instead of reserving it for expansion of the convention center. And as with other sites, South Boston leaders also argue that it's too close to a residential neighborhood to support a ballpark.

Without private funding and all necessary city approvals, and with the ownership in flux, the Red Sox's plan for a new ballpark across the street from Fenway Park has lost momentum recently. But at least one bidder for the team has suggested it may be possible to rebuild Fenway on its current site. And there is already a formal ballpark planning process underway in the Fenway and $100 million in state infrastructure aid approved in that neighborhood, neither of which now exists in South Boston.

''It's kind of like looking in the mirror,'' said one official involved in the planning. ''Everything looks good until you take a closer look. The more people look at alternative sites, the more likely problems will start to surface.''

Meg Vaillancourt can be reached by e-mail at vaillancourt@globe.com.

This story ran on page D1 of the Boston Globe on 7/3/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

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