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Groups: No public funds for Sox plan

By Meg Vaillancourt, Globe Staff, 01/20/00

Three groups opposed to the Boston Red Sox's plans to build a $600 million ballpark went to the State House yesterday to urge lawmakers to vote against investing public money in the project.

The Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, a statewide consumer advocacy organization, joined two longtime ballpark opponents, the Fenway Action Coalition and Save Fenway Park, in denouncing possible public subsidies for a new Fenway Park.

Arguing that the economic benefits of a ballpark have been exaggerated by the team's boosters, the opponents noted that new stadium projects in some other cities have failed to dramatically increase jobs and tax receipts as promised.

Public investment in new sports facilities, the opponents said, comes at the expense of other government-funded priorities such as education, health care, and tax cuts.

"If this is about economic growth and jobs, then it's a no-brainer," said MassPIRG spokesman Rob Sargent. "There are many, many more productive ways to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to do that. . . . We've decided to weigh in here to urge the Legislature to exercise some restraint."

To underscore the opponents' point, a member of Save Fenway Park dressed as Santa Claus and distributed more than 200 copies of a book criticizing public investments in professional sports teams to city and state lawmakers. The book, titled "Field of Schemes," has become a bible for opponents of the new ballpark. "This is a bad deal for taxpayers," Fenway Action Coalition member Peter Catalano said as he prepared to drop off the books at lawmakers' offices yesterday. "It's a bad deal for fans. And it's disastrous for the residents of Boston, especially those who live in the Fenway area."

But the Red Sox say they are still developing their financing package, and stressed they have not yet determined how much public investment they will seek.

"We are engaged in a dialogue with public officials in order to demonstrate that an appropriate level of public investment is justified by the benefits that will be returned to the city, state, and Fenway area," said Red Sox spokeswoman Kathryn St. John. "This is the beginning of a public process, and there will be plenty of opportunity for input."

Red Sox chief executive John Harrington unveiled the plans for the 43,000-seat ballpark last April. But the team's role in hosting the 1999 All-Star Game and playoff bid, combined with the five-month state budget stalemate on Beacon Hill and the ouster of former Boston Redevelopment Authority chief Thomas N. O'Brien, derailed discussions about how much taxpayers might invest in the project. Some observers wonder whether the team's push to build a new stadium adjacent to the old ballpark has lost momentum.

The stadium is expected to bring a million more fans each year to the area. According to team officials, about 30 percent of the fans will come from out of state, generating net new revenues for the city and state.

The Red Sox denied published reports suggesting the team could ask for up to $300 million in state and city aid. "While there have been some reports of numbers, we have strongly pointed out those numbers are purely speculative," St. John said. "There is no number because we are still reviewing various approaches."

The team is not expected to detail its financing plan for another month or two. The Red Sox are expected to seek at least $200 million to $250 million in public investment.

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