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Parking fees eyed in Fenway deal

By Meg Vaillancourt, Globe Staff, 7/12/2000

n his search for a way to recoup the city's investment in a new Fenway Park, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino has proposed a plan that would impose new parking surcharges throughout Boston.

While city officials stressed the tentative proposal is one of several ideas under review, a citywide parking surcharge could raise significantly more than the $9 million a year needed to repay the city's $120 million investment in acquiring the proposed ballpark site.

The idea was discussed by city officials at a meeting with top aides to Governor Paul Cellucci, Senate President Thomas Birmingham, and House Speaker Thomas Finneran this week. But because it would be paid largely by suburban commuters, whose representatives far outnumber Boston legislators on Beacon Hill, state leaders responded cautiously to the idea.

"It was raised as part of a brainstorming session," James Rooney, the mayor's chief of staff, confirmed yesterday. "No one accepted it, and no one rejected it. It was part of menu of options."

By law, Menino would need the state's authority to impose any citywide surcharges, so legislative approval is essential if the parking fees are to be included as part of a payback plan.

Meeting the mayor's demand for 100 percent payback on the city's investment is a major sticking point in the ballpark financing talks being held between the city and state. With just 2 1/2 weeks left in the legislative session, the city's proposals have emerged as a key element in the negotiations, especially since state lawmakers won't move the project forward without the mayor's strong support.

Rooney declined to discuss details, but according to sources close to the mayor, the fees under consideration range from 20 to 50 cents per space per day. Given the tens of thousands of licensed spaces in Boston, the city's take could easily top $9 million a year. The surcharge could be structured either on a per-car or per-space basis, and would be imposed on licensed lot operators throughout the city, who might pass along the additional cost to parking patrons.

The per-space fee would raise more money for the city because it would have to be paid by lot operators each day regardless of whether a car was parked in it.

State leaders could not be reached for comment last night, and the Red Sox declined to comment on any financing options under review by the city and state. Team officials were not present at the meetings at which the mayor and his aides raised the proposal.

Supporters argued environmentalists may embrace the parking surcharge because it could encourage commuters to use mass transit, and if other cities and towns could impose similar fees, the idea could gain support on Beacon Hill. State legislative leaders have already pledged to finance as much as $100 million in state infrastructure improvements in the Kenmore area as part of the $627 million ballpark project.

According to city sources, there has also been talk of a possible hike in meals taxes in Boston to help recoup the city's investment. But any tax hike would probably be opposed by Cellucci, who despite his consistant support for the Red Sox project, has a firm no-new-taxes pledge.

Meanwhile, Menino met with his key advisers at City Hall last night to review financing options in anticipation of a possible summit between state, city, and team officials. Red Sox chief John Harrington had hoped for a meeting yesterday, but the closest anyone came to a summit was when Menino, Cellucci, Rooney, and Red Sox development adviser Robert Walsh met on the deck of the USS Kennedy for the Tall Ships parade yesterday.

Anxious to get state lawmakers to consider a plan before they adjourn on July 31, Harrington said he was hopeful that city, state, and team officials could schedule a meeting within the next few days.

Although House and Senate leaders are locked in a battle over next year's budget, State House sources said they could resolve their differences within the next week. Ballpark boosters argue that would still give the team enough time to present a new Fenway Park bill to legislators, if state and city leaders can agree on at least a rough outline of a financing plan.

Under the Red Sox plan, the team would pay $350 million to build the new ballpark; the state would invest $100 million in infrastructure aid; and the city would acquire and clean up the proposed site. Seeking to cap the city's costs, Menino has offered the Sox up to $120 million in land acquisition costs, about $20 million less than the team had estimated it would cost to buy and clean up the site.

This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 7/12/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

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