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A waterfront site for the new Sox

By Joan Vennochi, Globe Staff, 10/10/2000

The Yawkey Trust is up for sale, which means new ownership for the Boston Red Sox. With new owners, the ball club should also get a new home in a new part of the city - the waterfront.

It's where the Sox originally wanted to go before they were redirected to the Fenway by Mayor Thomas M. Menino. And it still makes economic, logistical, and political sense.

The painful process of getting a public financing package for a new Sox ballpark pointed out the obvious. The price tag for a new Fenway in the Fenwayis just too high. That fact is underscored by the difficulty since then in raising private money for the deal that was approved last July by state legislators and signed into law by Governor Paul Cellucci.

Potential land cost overruns are too much of a burden for the team, as the Red Sox chief executive, John Harrington, acknowledged last week when he announced that the team is up for sale.

To compensate, Wall Street financiers would cut costs by shrinking the size and scope of the project. Why let them do it? That approach stands to saddle Boston with another FleetCenter. And this city doesn't need another cheap, architecturally dull sports arena to deaden the senses along with team spirit.

Instead, why not build a beautiful new ballpark in a beautiful setting, the new Boston waterfront, especially if it costs the taxpayers less?

The key is public cost, and it would likely be lower on the waterfront for this reason. Much of the infrastructure is already underway, with money allocated to pay for it.

The average fan could ride in on the new Silver Line. The Big Dig means new roads and ramps and an efficient way in and out of the city for those who continue to drive. Thousands of parking spaces would be available as part of surrounding hotel and retail development. Meanwhile, corporate luxury box owners could walk from the financial district to a new waterfront ballpark, cutting down on traffic.

There is also plenty of land. Developer Frank McCourt, for example, owns a 25-acre chunk that would be more than enough for the Sox. After his bitter wrangling with City Hall over the proper course of development along the waterfront, McCourt could be a local hero if made a deal with the Sox.

The politics of this location make it difficult - or rather, the conventional wisdom about the politics of this location make it difficult. But conventional wisdom can be wrong.

It is always assumed that South Boston residents would oppose a ballpark because they opposed a football stadium in the same vicinity. But much has changed since Bob Kraft tried to force the New England Patriots onto the waterfront.

This is the most important change: South Boston's elected officials and the Menino administration are caught in the middle of a messy controversy over the $65 million linkage agreement they brokered with the City of Boston to mitigate the impact from waterfront development.

Menino could get his development legacy back on track if he showed some political courage and said what makes sense. The ballpark belongs on the waterfront.

Such a statement might not be as startling to South Boston as everyone imagines. The City Council president, James M. Kelly, who represents South Boston and opposes the current ballpark proposal, believes that the Red Sox should look somewhere other than the Fenway for a new site. "One of the solutions is for the Red Sox to look elsewhere," says Kelly. "That includes every area and neighborhood of the city where there is room. I can't say, `look at Allston-Brighton, look at Suffolk Downs, look at Melnea Cass, but don't look at South Boston.' "

Kelly believes that the Sox should make a direct pitch to South Boston residents. While there is no guarantee that the club would prevail, the City Council president sounds more open to the suggestion than ever before. After all, as he points out, this is no longer a choice between a ballpark and nothing at all; it is a choice about weighing competing proposals for hotel and retail development against proposals that include a ballpark.

"That's considerably different than what Bob Kraft had to deal with," points out Kelly.

For once, South Boston could make something happen rather than block it from happening. It could demonstrate a spirit of compromise and a view that goes beyond neighborhood boundaries.

In this new era of a new Boston, that is not so far-fetched. After all, if the Boston Red Sox can get new owners, South Boston can get a new attitude.

Joan Venocchi's e-mail address is vennochi@globe.com.

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