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Focus turns to state leaders in Sox talks

By Meg Vaillancourt and Stephanie Ebbert, Globe Staff, 7/7/2000

fter a two-hour meeting in a South Boston office yesterday, Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Red Sox chief John Harrington emerged once again singing the same ''we're making progress'' refrain, but with no agreement on the city's investment in the team's proposed $627 million ballpark project.

Wary of alienating state leaders, who will have the final say on any ballpark financing package, the Red Sox neither accepted nor rejected the mayor's offer of $110 million in city aid for a new Fenway Park.

''It was another day of productive dialogue,'' Harrington said after the meeting while declining to comment on specific points discussed yesterday.

Menino said he expects to meet with team officials again today and with state leaders by the end of the week.

''There are still some issues to work out in terms of cost sharing and the city's payback,'' Menino said. ''But we hope to meet with state leaders later this week.''

The mayor has said that any city funds used to acquire and clean up the new ballpark site near Fenway Park must be repaid in full. Most of the revenue sources the team has proposed for repaying the city will require legislative approval, and public hearings must still be held before lawmakers could vote on the matter.

But with state lawmakers scheduled to adjourn in only three weeks, it remains uncertain whether the team, Menino, and state leaders will have enough time to broker a deal.

Menino said he remains hopeful that a deal can be reached before lawmakers adjourn for the year on July 31, but he backed away from making a commitment.

''This deal could happen within several hours, several days, a week or not at all,'' Menino said before the meeting with the Red Sox.

Yet despite the tight timetable, and his demand for 100 percent payback on city funds used for the ballpark project, Menino acknowledged yesterday that he has not yet approached Governor Paul Cellucci, House speaker Thomas M. Finneran, or Senate president Thomas F. Birmingham to seek their approval for the specific taxes and fees he will need to recoup the city's investment.

''We haven't really discussed how the city would recoup its investment in the Red Sox project,'' Menino said at a news conference earlier in the day.

That admission set off alarm bells for ballpark boosters who fear time is running out for the Red Sox. Since state leaders have not participated in the current talks, any agreements the city and the team reach will be subject to further negotiations on Beacon Hill.

All three state leaders have warned that there is barely enough time left in the legislative session to take up a ballpark bill this year.

Menino ''knows that any deal he makes can be remade once he gets up to the state,'' said one business source who is not involved in the ballpark talks. ''So with so little time left, it's unclear why he isn't at least asking state leaders for what he wants.''

For most of the past year, state leaders have been involved in three-way talks with the city and team, but over the past two months, the city and the Sox have been talking mostly to each other.

Underscoring the intense secrecy surrounding the talks, yesterday's meeting was held in the South Boston office of Red Sox development consultant Robert Walsh, who is a friend of the mayor.

State leaders are already embroiled in battles over next year's budget, and may be loath to spend precious political capital defending public aid for a new Fenway Park project without the mayor's strong support.

''The state isn't going to do this for the Red Sox,'' said one State House source. ''This would have to be for Boston and because it was clear the mayor wants it.''

This week, Menino offered the Red Sox $110 million in city aid to purchase the 10 acres needed for the new ballpark, but he balked at funding the full costs of site preparation and cleanup. The Red Sox had asked the city to assume the cost of both, which the team estimates at $140 million.

Finneran has agreed to provide at least $100 million in state infrastructure aid for the project, however, as the Globe reported yesterday, he suggested House members are unlikely to include cleanup costs in their definition of infrastructure.

That leaves the Red Sox with at least a $30 million gap, possibly more if the state decides not to provide funds for two garages included in the Red Sox plan. Menino has already ruled out city funds for the garages.

Yesterday Harrington said the team, which is controlled by a charitable trust, cannot possibly afford more than the $352 million it has already pledged to invest in building the new ballpark.

''We've also agreed to cover construction cost overruns, so we are really taking on a huge burden,'' Harrington said.

''It's the largest investment any team has made in the history of sports, and we simply cannot do more.''

Some observers have wondered why Menino isn't willing to simply ask the state for sufficient revenues to cover all of the land-related costs since he has insisted on 100 percent payback anyway.

Anxious to set clear limits on how much the city will invest in the project, Menino said he did not want to assume responsibility for land costs and cleanup, both of which he said could escalate beyond the city's control.

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

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