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Councilors object to using public money for ballpark

By Meg Vaillancourt, Globe Staff, 04/14/00

Just as the Boston Red Sox appeared to be making progress on public funding for their proposed new $600 million ballpark, eight city councilors sent the team reeling yesterday with a letter to Governor Paul Cellucci sounding their lack of support for the project.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino has been negotiating with the team and state officials for almost a year over public investment in a new Fenway Park.

Although the Red Sox have not detailed their financing plan, Menino has said the city would assist the team by using eminent domain and bonding authority to acquire the proposed 14-acre ballpark site adjacent to the 88-year-old Fenway Park.

The council letter could be a challenge to Menino's position because the taking of city land and use of the city's bonding authority requires the approval of councilors.

In their sternly worded letter, eight of the 13 councilors said "it would be a mistake" to assume they would agree to either action.

Noting their increasing concern that the council has not been part of negotiations with the team, councilors made it clear they intend to withhold support unless assured the city will be able to recover funds spent acquiring the site. Estimates for land acquistion range from $65 million to more than $100 million.

"Unless the City Council is presented with a credible plan for a return on the taxpayers' investment and a return to the City Treasury, we will not support using public funds for a new stadium for the Boston Red Sox," the letter stated.

The letter was signed by Michael Ross, Chuck Turner, Mickey Roache, Peggy Davis-Mullen, Brian Honan, Maura Hennigan, Maureen Feeney, and Charles Yancey.

In addition to Cellucci, the letter was sent to House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran and Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham. Menino also received a copy.

The mayor had no comment on the letter yesterday, but his spokeswoman, Carol Brennan stressed he was not taking the council's support for granted.

"The mayor is not making any assumptions about the City Council actions," she said. "The parties are still in negotiations and there is no definitive plan to share with the council yet. When there is, of course he will involve them."

The letter represents a significant setback for the both the Red Sox and the mayor, who until recently has been viewed as the project's biggest cheerleader. By addressing the letter to state officials, the councilors appeared to be directly challenging Menino's control of the negotiating and planning process.

Robert Walsh, a close friend of the mayor's who is the team's development adviser on the project, has been the Red Sox point man with city officials, including the council.

With lawmakers scheduled to adjourn in July, the Red Sox are facing an increasingly tight deadline in assembling a financing package that has support in City Hall and on Beacon Hill.

Top aides to Cellucci, Birmingham, Finneran, and Menino have been meeting with the Red Sox for months, hammering out possible financing schemes that could allow the team to secure up to $250 million in state and city funds. Without public investment, including landtakings by the city and state infrastructure aid, the Red Sox say they cannot build their new ballpark.

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