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Menino hopeful on ballpark financing pact, mayor believes city, state, Red Sox can agree on Fenway plan before legislative session ends

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

With only four months left before Beacon Hill lawmakers adjourn for the year, Mayor Thomas M. Menino said he believes the Boston Red Sox can reach an agreement with state and city officials on a financing plan for a new Fenway Park in this legislative session.

"If we all work with the best of intentions, I think we can move this along," Menino said. "The Red Sox need a new ballpark, and I'd like to see it done this session."

The Red Sox have not specified how much city and state funding they need to build their $600 million ballpark project, but Menino said he is studying information supplied by the team to ascertain how much the city might contribute and how it could recoup its investment.

Citing the new convention center as a model, Menino said the city may help by acquiring and assembling the proposed 14-acre ballpark site. However, he insisted the city needs new revenue to fund its investment in the project.

"We can help [with land acquisition] if the city has the ability to recoup the revenues we spend on it," Menino said. "As with the new convention center, we need new revenue streams to do that. That's essential."

Menino did not specify what revenue streams the city might seek, but before the city can impose new taxes, it first must obtain legislative approval.

State lawmakers have indicated their willingness to consider a financing plan for the Red Sox this year, but despite months of talks, the team has not yet specified how much state aid it will seek. With interest rates and construction costs rising, the team is facing a tight deadline to obtain state and city funding before lawmakers adjourn in July.

In signaling his tentative support for the city's aid in acquiring the proposed ballpark site, Menino gave the Red Sox reason for hope yesterday. But he also repeated his argument that more than a ballpark is needed to revitalize the Fenway neighborhood. "I've said all along that this area has a lot of needs beyond a ballpark," Menino said. "And there needs to be some preliminary planning in place that recognizes that."

In particular, the mayor praised a plan being promoted by the Fenway Community Development Corp. calling for a major redesign of the area. The centerpiece of the so-called "urban village" plan is a revamped Boylston Street where a mix of retail and housing would replace parking lots and fast-food outlets that dot the busy artery.

Noting the CDC and area residents' opposition to the new ballpark plan, Menino hinted the team may have to revise its proposed design, especially the brick wall planned for along Boylston Street. However, he stopped far short of saying a master plan for the Fenway must be in place before a financing plan for the ballpark can be approved. "I think the CDC's urban village plan is a good one, and I think some preliminary planning for revitalizing the Boylston Street streetscape is needed," Menino said. "But I don't think that idea and a new ballpark are incompatible."

Menino directed the Red Sox to build their new home in the Fenway, but residents in the area are deeply divided on the plan.

In a bid to encourage more community support, the Red Sox said yesterday that starting this season they will provide free shuttle bus service to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's Ruggles Station before and after all their games.

The team's goal is to reduce the traffic impact on the Fenway area by encouraging fans to use the T's Orange Line and linking commuter rail lines. Shuttle buses also are expected to alleviate overcrowding on the Green Line, team officials said. Up to eight shuttle buses carrying 56 passengers each will operate along the 1.5-mile route between Fenway Park and Ruggles every 5 to 7 minutes.

The team also plans to offer fans discounted parking at the Prudential Center and encourage parking at garages near Boston University and the Longwood Medical and Academic Area. Responding to complaints from Fenway area residents, the Red Sox also pledged to alleviate problems with idling charter buses and provide better police details before and after games.

At a Fenway planning meeting last night, residents also heard other development proposals for the area. Steve Samuels and partner William McQuillan presented a detailed mixed-use development for land they own just outside of the proposed ballpark site between Boylston Street and Brookline Avenue.

The plan, which the developers termed "very preliminary" calls for 320 units of housing, a new residential hotel, underground parking and ground-level retail shops.

Samuels and McQuillian also own just under an acre of land included in the footprint of the Red Sox proposed new ballpark. However, the two developers sidestepped any conflict with the Red Sox by carefully limiting their project to property outside the ballpark's borders.

"We don't oppose or support the Red Sox plans, but it's hard to ignore them when some of their ballpark sits on property we own," McQuillian said. "But we have been encouraged to move forward regradless of whether the Red Sox get their new project or not."

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