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Cooperative development

Editorial by Globe Staff, 04/04/00

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino was on target when he urged the Red Sox to recruit private landowners near Fenway Park as partners in the proposal to build a new stadium. A cooperative venture would produce greater benefits for the Fenway neighborhood. The mayor ought to use this same line of reasoning to encourage landowners on the waterfront to work together.

Yet the mayor opposes the co-development offer made by Frank McCourt to the Pritzker family, which owns the Fan Pier parcel opposite McCourt's land on old Northern Avenue. One great difference is that, while the Pritzkers would obtain private money, the Red Sox want the city and state to contribute to financing a new ballpark, and a cooperative venture would reduce the city's cost.

The city has a keen interest in ensuring that development brings out the best in both the Fenway and waterfront districts, no matter who comes up with the money. In both cases, planning is made difficult by the presence of multiple land owners.

The mayor is right that the city should minimize its contribution to a new ballpark. Most of the direct profit would accrue to the Red Sox. Beyond that, the project is bound to greatly affect the neighborhood. If planned as part of a joint development initiative, under the guidance of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, a new ballpark could increase economic activity while enhancing the livability of the Fenway-Kenmore Square area.

The waterfront poses a different opportunity for city officials because most of it is unoccupied land. The build-out ought to be planned in a unified way so that each private development enhances the other. The Red Sox want to go it alone, despite Menino's urgings. The team must show the mayor that it will minimize the city's financial exposure.

Likewise, if the Pritzkers refuse to take up McCourt's offer, they ought to revise their plan so that it better fulfills the state regulatory mandate for ample public access to the water's edge. It should also fit in with whatever McCourt can reasonably expect to do with his property. When developers refuse to cooperate, government officials have an obligation to make sure their projects adhere to a unified vision that puts the public interest first.

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