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Finneran puts burden on Sox, fans

Speaker's funding plans leaves ballpark prospects uncertain

By Meg Vaillancourt, Globe Staff, 7/25/2000

n a potentially fatal blow to the Red Sox's efforts to build a new ballpark, House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran yesterday unveiled a Fenway financing proposal that relies almost entirely on the team, fans, and Major League Baseball to shoulder the cost of acquiring the site for the facility. The plan, outlined by Finneran after House members met in a closed-door caucus, calls for the team, fans, and the league to provide $10 million of the $11 million a year needed to repay the city's land acquisition and cleanup costs. "It puts all the burden on the users of the facility - fans, the team, and the league," Finneran said. "They cannot offload them onto the general public, many of whom are not fans and do not attend the games and do not desire to see their tax dollars subsidize a privately profitable sports franchise." But Red Sox chief John Harrington argued that by making fans and the team pay most of the costs, Finneran and other political leaders are ignoring the economic benefit a new ballpark and an estimated 1 million more fans a year would bring to the city and the state. "The Red Sox are extremely concerned about the proposed burden recently announced finance plans place on our fans, who will already bear much of the cost for the new ballpark through seat deposits and the highest ticket prices in the league," Harrington said last night. "A new ballpark will generate very significant economic benefits for all of Massachusetts and Red Sox fans should not bear the whole burden if we are going preserve baseball as affordable family entertainment." Asked last night during a television interview to rate the chances of passing a ballpark bill before the Legislature adjourns Monday, Finneran said, "probably better than 50-50." But sources close to the ballpark talks said that Finneran's proposal would make it virtually impossible for the Red Sox to privately finance their portion of the project. "It can't be done," said one sports financing specialist. "The speaker's plan loads all of the risks and the payback on the Sox and the league. The team's bankers and advisers won't be able to get financing under those circumstances." Governor Paul Cellucci said last night that he would meet in his office today with Finneran, Mayor Thomas M. Menino, and Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham to see if they can reach consensus on a financing scheme. At Finneran's insistence, the Red Sox were not invited to the meeting. Each of the four officials has offered competing ballpark plans. While Menino, Birmingham, and Cellucci have all stressed that they are open to negotiation, Finneran insisted yesterday that he would not compromise on his stance that the team, fans, and league bear most of the burden for paying back the city. Under Finneran's scheme, the city would recoup $6.5 million a year from hotel taxes, parking fees, and ticket surcharges. But the team and the league also would have to come up with as much as $5 million a year to help repay the city, the equivalent of roughly $60 million in additional debt. Finneran acknowledged that he had not discussed his proposal with the Red Sox to determine whether it is financially feasible for the team. "I don't need to get any sign-off or approval from the league or the team," the speaker said. "This is their problem." In another major setback for the team, Finneran also ruled out $28 million in state infrastructure aid for soil removal. Cellucci, Birmingham, and Menino have all agreed the state could help fund the clean-up costs. Finneran said, however, that the issue was not negotiable. Underscoring his objections, Finneran also rejected a Birmingham proposal under which the team would repay any funds spent on soil removal when the Red Sox are sold. "House members are adamant about not allowing soil removal costs to masquerade as infrastructure aid," Finneran said. "There is simply no appetite for that whatsoever." The Red Sox are struggling to privately finance the $352 million ballpark. Under Finneran's plan the team would have to bear the expense of cost overruns related to stadium construction, acquiring the 10 acres of privately owned land for the site, and cleaning up the property. Asked whether he would consider funding some clean-up costs if the team could not afford all cost overruns, Finneran said: "They can scale back the nature of their proposal, look for additional investors, or they can talk with their private bankers . . . But the fans, the team, and the league are the ones who bear the paramount responsibility for financing this project." Negotiations involving the city, state, and Red Sox officials have dragged on for more than a year. For months, the talks have focused on Menino's demand for 100 percent repayment of the $140 million the city would invest in the project. The city would need about $11 million a year to cover the debt service on its contribution. While all the financing schemes provide the city with a dollar-for-dollar payback, the four political leaders disagree on how to accomplish that goal. For example, while Birmingham's proposal includes a 15 percent surcharge on luxury boxes, Finneran and Cellucci did not include the fee. Menino proposed a citywide parking surcharge to fund the entire $11 million, but Cellucci pledged to veto it. "There are four plans out there, and there's agreement on parts of each," Menino said. "We should be able to come up with a package that's acceptable." But some argued that the four leaders may be too far apart to reach an agreement before lawmakers adjourn. "It's in a coma, but it hasn't flatlined yet," said one official involved in the financing negotiations. Others contend that state and city officials are adopting a hardline negotiating stance because they believe the Red Sox may accept less money than the team says it needs. The team, they argue, could decide to build a less expensive facility rather than forfeit the $7 million it has spent on its efforts. Cellucci, who has been one of the team's strongest supporters, acknowledged yesterday that his aides have begun reviewing alternative sites in case the team's current bid to build a new ballpark fails. "I'm flexible, but we need to go through the Legislature, so we need to have Finneran on board," the governor said. "I'm hoping we don't have to go to Plan B. That's my hope."

This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 7/25/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

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