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Budget puts ballpark talks on hold

By Meg Vaillancourt, Globe Staff, 7/18/2000

indful of priorities, legislative leaders focused on reaching an agreement on next year's state budget yesterday, putting off a possible summit on a new Fenway Park until later this week.

As the team continued its push to get a ballpark bill in front of state lawmakers before they adjourn on July 31, the key political players kept a low public profile yesterday.

While Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and his aides talked with state officials and some of the mayor's informal advisers, a spokeswoman said the mayor did not reach any agreement on city financing of the team's proposed new $627 million ballpark project.

Governor Paul Cellucci was in Nova Scotia yesterday attending a conference, and Lieutenant Governor Jane Swift declined to discuss details of the ballpark financing negotiations, saying only that while the governor remains hopeful, time is running out on Beacon Hill. Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham and House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran also were unavailable to comment yesterday.

With each day, prospects for a ballpark bill passing appear to dim on Beacon Hill. But some political observers say there may be a narrow window of opportunity after the Legislature adopts the budget. Lawmakers are expected to pass the measure tomorrow and send it to the governor, who then has 10 days to consider possible vetoes. In the interim, the Legislature could take up a new Fenway Park bill.

The operative word is could. First, Cellucci, Birmingham, Finneran, and Menino would have to reach a consensus on how to finance the new ballpark.

"There has to be some agreement in the next day or two or it's not going to happen," one official involved in the talks said yesterday. "There isn't time for any more delay."

The key sticking point remains how to meet Menino's demand for 100 percent payback of the city's $120 million investment in acquiring the proposed ballpark site. Sources familiar with the talks said the political leaders appear to be focused on four or five possible options, which together could give Menino the $9 million a year he seeks to recoup the city's investment.

According to the sources, those options are:

A slight hike in the city's hotel tax, which would raise an estimated $2 million a year for the city.

Creating a special district that would allow the city to retain new meals and sales taxes that normally would be collected by the state. Such a district could generate $2 million to $3 million a year for the city.

A game-day parking surcharge in the Fenway and Kenmore areas, that, depending on how it's drawn, could raise $2 million to $3 million.

Some new property taxes generated by development on the current ballpark site, which could account for $6 million in new revenues for the city.

Menino is opposed to crediting the project with any funds raised through property taxes. However, state leaders argue that if the state is willing to give up sales and meals tax revenue by creating a special district, the city should be willing to accept taxes generated by development on the old ballpark as part of its payback.

Other options remain under review, including a surcharge on tickets or giving the city a cut of garage revenues, but at least one of the four political leaders has ruled out these ideas.

Depending on how the boundaries are drawn for the special district and the game-day parking surcharge, the options could total $9 million, thereby meeting Menino's demand for 100 percent payback.

"If the political will is there, it's clear there is a deal that could be struck," said one source close to the ballpark talks. "The question now is whether there is the political will."

Others were more skeptical. "It's a game of musical chairs and no one wants to be the guy left standing," said another source. "They may be delaying any summit because they know that they will have to come out and announce a deal or it's dead. And no one wants to be the one blamed for killing the Sox dream. At the very least, they'd rather do it with all the other political players saying the same thing at the same time."

Meanwhile critics are stepping up their campaign to block the Sox plan. Today Fenway community activists have scheduled a news conference to tout their plans for the proposed ballpark site. Instead of a new Fenway Park, groups like the Fenway Community Development Corporation are promoting a so-called urban village scheme that calls for the creation of mixed-income housing, resident-oriented retail shops, a community center and elementary schools on the privately owned parcels between Boylston Street and Brookline Avenue.

On Sunday, a majority of the Boston City Council blasted all the financing options on the table. The councilors, who must approve the public land takings and city bonds needed for the project, pledged to vote against a ballpark bill even if the state and team promise to repay the city's investment.

This story ran on page C01 of the Boston Globe on 7/18/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

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