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Mayor says Fenway change must go beyond ballpark, include whole area

By Meg Vaillancourt, Globe Staff, 03/21/00

With the Boston Red Sox pushing for public investment in a new $600 million ballpark project, Mayor Thomas M. Menino said yesterday that he favors a major overhaul of the entire Fenway neighborhood rather than focusing solely on a new ballpark.

Menino's call for a larger redevelopment plan could delay progress on the Red Sox plan. Since state lawmakers adjourn in July this election year, the team is facing a tight deadline to secure state and city funding before the session ends. Expanding the scope of the project with only four months left in the legislative session is likely to undercut the team's ability to get a bill passed this year.

Yesterday, Menino stressed that while he agrees that the Red Sox need a new ballpark, more is needed in the Fenway area.

"That neighborhood has a lot of problems, and we need to address them as part of a revitalization plan for the whole Fenway area," Menino said. "You can't just think of a new ballpark in isolation."

"I support a new ballpark, but as mayor, I have to think of the city's needs and the future of the neighborhood, not just the Red Sox," the mayor added.

Fenway residents are divided on the ballpark plan. While some groups support it, a coalition of Fenway activists kicked off a campaign yesterday aimed at blocking the Red Sox plan.

Roughly 100 Fenway residents and community leaders pledged to fight the new ballpark plan, arguing that what the area needs is more lower-cost housing, a local grammar school, a community center, and small-scale business development, not a new, larger ballpark.

"The Red Sox's proposed new 44,000-seat ballpark is incompatible with our vision of the neighborhood's needs and its future development," said Carl Koechlin of the Fenway Community Development Corp., a leading opponent of the Red Sox plan.

Noting that the team's proposal is expected to require at least $200 million in public investment, opponents argued that taxpayers' money would be better spent on redeveloping the neighborhood according to a plan developed by local residents in 1992.

In place of the new ballpark Red Sox officials hope to build along Boylston Street, the so-called "Fenway Urban Village" plan calls for low-rise retail development along the street.

"A ballpark doesn't belong on Boylston Street,"CDC member Steve Wolfe said. "But we are encouraged that the mayor recognizes the neighborhood needs much more than a ballpark."

It is unclear how the city would fund the land takings needed to accomplish such a radical redesign of the neighborhood. But skeptics note that despite the plan's bold vision, no private developer has agreed to back the massive urban renewal project.

"There are a few private developers who are willing to work with us to bring our urban-village vision into a reality," Wolfe said. "And frankly, if the Red Sox plan wasn't on the table, we think there would be even more developers interested in working with us."

For the past 10 months, the Red Sox have been meeting with city and state officials in hopes of reaching an agreement on public funding before they announce their financing package. Underscoring their commitment to a new ballpark, the Red Sox have ruled out trying to develop other projects in the area. Bolstered by business and labor groups, team officials remain focused on securing passage of a new ballpark bill this year.

"We are continuing our dialogue with the neighborhood and the city to make sure that we hear from everyone and know how to best move our project foward this year," team spokeswoman Kathryn St. John said.

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