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Menino is said to offer $110m toward Fenway

By Meg Vaillancourt, Globe Staff, 07/06/2000

oston Mayor Thomas M. Menino has offered the Red Sox $110 million in city funds to help pay for acquiring and cleaning up the proposed site for a new ballpark in the Fenway, according to sources close to negotiations between the city and the team.

The Red Sox have been pressing the city for almost a year to assume site acquisition and cleanup costs, which the team has estimated at $140 million.

While Menino's offer is $30 million less than what the team is seeking, it marks the first time the mayor has specified the amount of money the city is willing to invest in the $627 million ballpark project.

'' With its offer, the city has put the Red Sox $30 million away from a new ballpark,'' said one source close to the negotiations. ''It's time for the Red Sox to roll up their sleeves.''

According to sources, the team has not yet accepted the offer because state officials would have to be involved in creating the final financing package. It remained unclear whether the team could make up the $30 million shortfall, assuming its land-related estimates prove accurate.

Menino's proposed $110 million could cover the estimated $90 million in land acquisition costs for the privately owned 10-acre site, but it is unlikely to pay for all of the site-preparation expenses needed to build the ballpark.

While some have suggested that the state might be willing to pay for this work as ''infrastructure,'' House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran cast doubt on that idea last night.

''I'd have to say that I think that's something the members would be very skeptical of,'' Finneran said after an appearance on the David Brudnoy show on WBZ radio. ''It's certainly not something we have considered at this point.''

Sources familiar with the talks said that Menino had made the $110 million offer to Red Sox chief John Harrington during recent negotiations aimed at reaching a ballpark financing agreement before the Legislature adjourns on July 31. Earlier in the talks, Menino, who has directed the team to build its new home in the Fenway, had privately offered about $100 million in city aid, the source said.

The city's aid is contingent on the Red Sox meeting the mayor's demand for a dollar-for-dollar payback of city funds used for the project. Most of the proposed revenues needed to repay the city would require legislative approval since Menino cannot impose new taxes or transfer existing ones without permission from state lawmakers.

The mayor and Harrington are scheduled to resume discussions today. Given their crucial role in the finance talks, state leaders said last night that they expect the mayor will bring them back into negotiations this week.

The $110 million offered by Menino would put the city on roughly equal footing with the state's expected investment in the project. Finneran has already said he would support providing as much as $100 million in infrastructure aid for the new Fenway Park.

Potential infrastructure improvements that have been discussed include new roadways, utilities, mass transit improvements, pedestrian ways, and some measures needed to stop the recurrent flooding in the Fenway.

Since the design of the new ballpark calls for the playing field to be sunk 20 feet below street level, a portion of the estimated $50 million for site preparation was slated to be spent on building special walls to prevent the ballpark from flooding.

Because flood control measures in public areas might qualify as infrastructure, some ballpark boosters had hoped the state might be willing to help fund similar improvements at the ballpark.

It had been assumed, however, during the months of negotiation that the city would pick up the tab for all site-related costs.

In the past, Menino has suggested the Red Sox could raise additional private investment for the project by accepting new partners or selling stock in the team. But team officials and sports financing experts argue that such steps are impractical and unlikely to raise the necessary funds.

In a recent interview, Harrington stressed that the team would have a ''very, very difficult time'' financing the $352 million it would need to build the new ballpark.

Harrington also noted that the Red Sox's investment would be the largest such commitment any team has made in a privately owned sports facility, surpassing those of the San Francisco Giants and New England Patriots.

Asked what the Sox should do if neither the city nor state will fund the full costs of cleaning up the site, Finneran said it was not his responsibility to devise a financing plan for the team. ''I mean this respectfully, but that is not the public's problem,'' Finneran said. ''That's up to the Red Sox and their banker.''

Finneran reiterated his opposition to sharing revenues generated by the two garages included in the Red Sox ballpark plan with the team if the state funds them. ''Whoever pays to build them gets to keep the revenue,'' Finneran said last night.

The Red Sox had been seeking a cut of game day revenues from the garages. While the state or a private developer could build the garages with long-term contracts from area hospitals and universities, ballpark boosters note that would not give the team the additional parking revenue it was seeking to help underwrite its investment in the new ballpark.

Under Menino's proposal, the Red Sox would have to finance at least $382 million, plus likely cost overruns on the ballpark. And if the publicly funded garages fall off the negotiating table, the team, which is controlled by a charitable trust, could have to find as much as $464 million. Indeed, some financial specialists suggested that without dramatic changes, the funding gap could prove fatal to the Red Sox's current proposal.

''The Red Sox would have had a tough time financing the project if the city and state had agreed to their plan,'' said one sports financing specialist last night. ''I can't see how they can finance another $30 million.''

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 7/06/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.


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