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Ballpark's key issues unresolved

Buck may stop with mayor, speaker on financial plan

By Meg Vaillancourt, Globe Staff, 07/05/2000

fter more than a year of talk about a new Fenway Park, it has come down to this: Is there a financing plan that can meet the demands of House speaker Thomas M. Finneran and Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and still leave the team with enough revenues to finance its portion of the $627 million project?

''It now depends on whether Menino and Finneran can agree on a plan,'' said a source close to the ballpark negotiations.

''And if they can, is it a deal that the Red Sox can afford? Because if the Sox have to rob the team they put out on the field in order to pay for the new ballpark, there isn't much sense in doing it.''

Talks between city officials and the Sox are expected to resume today. And since Menino must ask state leaders for the money he needs to offset the city's investment, negotiations with state leaders may take place later in the week.

But while Menino has repeatedly said he is optimistic an agreement can be reached, others note that significant hurdles must be overcome in order for a ballpark bill to be passed before state lawmakers adjourn on July 31.

According to sources tracking the Sox-city-state negotiations, four key issues remain unresolved:

How to cap the city's land costs so that Menino can be assured it won't cost more than the estimated $140 million to acquire and clean up the proposed ballpark site.

What money state leaders might agree to give Menino to help him recoup the city's investment.

Who will fund the $82 million needed to build the two garages included in the Red Sox plan.

Whether site cleanup and preparation count as state-funded infrastructure work.

Although Menino pressed the Sox for a response to proposals he put on the table last week, it's clear the state is likely to have the final say in resolving most of the issues.

By law, Menino cannot impose new taxes or transfer existing ones for a new ballpark without legislative approval, so he needs the state's help in ensuring the city has a way to get back any money it spends. State approval is also needed for up to $100 million in infrastructure improvements included in the project.

The Red Sox have asked the city to assume the cost of acquiring the ballpark site and cleaning it up. The team estimates it will cost the city about $90 million to acquire the roughly 10 acres of privately owned land and about $50 million to clean up and prepare it. But some city officials are concerned it may cost more than that, and Menino may balk at paying for both.

If the city agreed to pay for the land only, for example, the team would be forced to ask the state to fund the site cleanup and disposal of contaminated land, both of which have proved costly for the Big Dig. And because the site was once swampland that has been filled in, the project requires construction of special walls to prevent the ballpark from flooding. It's unclear whether the state will help with any of these costs.

City officials have suggested the state could help cap the city's cost of seizing about 10 acres of privately owned land needed for the new ballpark. They note that when the new convention center was being planned, the state agreed to pick up the first $50 million in cost overruns once the city's land costs exceeded $157 million.

That kind of state aid may not be available for the Red Sox project, however. When the Patriots sought aid for a new stadium, Finneran adamantly opposed using state funds to purchase land for privately owned sports facilities.

Finneran also objected to the Red Sox's proposal that the state build the garages and share parking revenue with the team and the city. Menino, too, recently signaled his reluctance to fund the garages. A private developer could build the garages with long-term contracts from area hospitals and universities, but that would not give the Red Sox the additional revenue they are seeking to help underwrite their $352 million investment in the new ballpark.

In addition to Menino and Finneran, Governor Paul Cellucci and Senate president Thomas F. Birmingham will determine the fate of the new Fenway Park. Cellucci has ruled out new statewide taxes, and Birmingham has been circumspect about which financing options he would endorse, but both state leaders are viewed as generally supportive of the team's ballpark bid.

Meanwhile, critics of the team's plan are working to defeat or at least delay the Red Sox. Fearful a deal may be close, Citizens Against Stadium Subsidies is planning this week to launch a line-by-line critique of the various financing schemes.

With just about a month left before state lawmakers adjourn until 2001, ballpark boosters argue it's approaching do-or-die time. Although the Patriots bill whisked through the State House in three weeks last year, the final package was approved only after the team announced it was moving to Connecticut. The Red Sox, however, aren't even whispering about moving out of Boston.

This story ran on page E1 of the Boston Globe on 7/05/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.


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