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Menino firm on a Fenway ballpark

Talk of other sites in called 'baloney'

By Meg Vaillancourt, Globe Staff, 10/15/2000

ayor Thomas M. Menino dismissed talk of building a new baseball stadium along the South Boston Waterfront yesterday, insisting that the best site for the team's new Fenway Park is in the Fenway.

Menino shrugged off suggestions that with the sale of the Red Sox, the new ballpark could be relocated to the waterfront or just off the Southeast Expressway near the former city incinerator.

''The only site that's in play now is the Fenway,'' Menino said. ''The Boston Redevelopment Authority studied more than 20 different sites and they all had problems and determined the Fenway made the most sense.''

''The team wants to build it there and the Legislature passed a bill providing aid that's earmarked to the Fenway,'' Menino said. ''Talk about other sites is just a bunch of baloney.''

The mayor, however, offered one caveat.

If the team cannot secure the roughly $350 million in private financing needed to build the new ballpark next door to 88-year-old Fenway Park, as outlined in the bill adopted by state lawmakers, then state and city officials might have to consider alternate sites.

''If the new owners discovered they can't finance the project, we might have to review things,'' Menino said. ''But that's not been determined. So right now, the only site that's on the table is the Fenway site, and that's what we're moving forward with.''

One name on the long list of potential bidders for the storied franchise is that of developer Frank McCourt, who is said to be considering building a new ballpark on a huge parcel he owns on the waterfront. The Red Sox acknowledge that several years ago they seriously considered a ballpark in that area.

While many South Boston neighborhood and political leaders have publicly ruled out a waterfront ballpark, some privately suggest that with the extension of the Silver Line and infrastructure aid from the state and federal government, South Boston residents might be persuaded to support such a proposal.

City Council President James M. Kelly and others, however, are more skeptical, noting that when the New England Patriots proposed building a new football stadium in the area, South Boston residents rejected the idea, even though the football team has just 10 exhibition and regular-season home games each year, compared with the baseball team's 81.

Other landowners who might bid on the Red Sox include Modern Continental Construction magnate Les Marino, who owns about 20 acres in Everett on the border of Charlestown, and businesspeople with ties to land across from the former incinerator site or near Suffolk Downs racetrack in Revere.

Critics of the current Red Sox plan argue that any of these landowners could slash $150 million or more from the cost of the project by contributing their land. In turn, they could then use the savings to place a higher bid for the team. Since the Red Sox are controlled by a charitable trust, club CEO John Harrington has a duty to sell to the highest bidder.

But both Menino and Harrington note that the $100 million in state aid included in the legislation is earmarked to the Fenway neighborhood. If the site were changed, the team's new owners would have to go back to Beacon Hill and get a new ballpark bill passed.

The key question is: Can the Red Sox finance their proposed new ballpark? Because state lawmakers forced the team to accept the risk of any cost overruns, the Red Sox have been struggling to secure the private funding. Harrington yesterday pledged that he will do ''everything possible'' to nail down the financing and anchor the Red Sox in the Fenway before the team is sold.

''The Red Sox's roots are here and it's part of the Yawkeys' legacy,'' Harrington said in an interview at his Fenway Park office. ''It makes sense for the new owners to build on the progress we've made in getting a new ballpark bill passed instead of starting all over again. Because the delay will mean the Red Sox will fall further behind other teams who already are playing in new ballparks.''

Harrington also argued that since no one knows who will place the winning bid, city officials who want the Red Sox to remain in Boston could risk losing the team to a new owner who could move the team to a cheaper site outside Boston.

Despite strong opposition from Fenway residents and city councilors who have pledged to block the project, the Red Sox and the mayor are determined to meet the only deadline set out in the ballpark legislation: a requirement that the Red Sox and the city submit a memorandum next month agreeing on how the $100 million in state infrastructure aid for the Fenway area should be spent.

''The bottom line is, something is going to be built on that site,'' Menino said. ''If the Red Sox leave, someone else will come in and develop their land into office towers or something else used 365 days a year, as opposed to a ballpark, which is used only about 80 days a year. And we won't have the state's $100 million in infrastructure aid to help deal with it. Now, the ballpark bill gives us the funds needed to change the sea of surface parking lots that now exist into something better for the community.''

This story ran on page B01 of the Boston Globe on 10/15/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

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