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Menino says he's not out to block sox, says goal is protecting taxpayers on stadium

By Meg Vaillancourt, Globe Staff, 04/02/00

A day after he stunned the Boston Red Sox by publicly demanding more private investment in the team's proposed new $600 million ballpark project, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino said yesterday his goal is to protect the city's taxpayers - not to delay legislative action on a new Fenway Park.

"I'm not trying to kill the project," Menino said in a bid to reassure skeptics. "I'm still a big supporter of a new ballpark. I just want to be sure we get a return on our investment. I haven't been convinced of that yet . . ., but I remain open to having the Red Sox show me how that can be done."

But ballpark supporters fear that with only four months to go in this legislative session, Menino's late push for more private investment could prevent passage of a bill to help fund a new Fenway Park this year.

And those who support the mayor's demand for more private investment admit that it would be difficult for the team to complete the lengthy negotiations with Major League Baseball and potential new partners that are likely to be required before lawmakers adjourn for the year in July.

Even as he held out hope for a new Fenway, Menino continued to raise the bar for the team's plans. Yesterday, he ruled out a tentative plan to use city bonds to finance a new muncipally owned ballpark. "I am not interested in owning the ballpark," Menino said, dismissing the idea. "I have a city to run."

Repeating a theme he struck during a taped interview slated to be broadcast today, the mayor added: "I think the Red Sox need to look to Major League Baseball and maybe some new partners to get more private investment [in the ballpark.] The city is not in the baseball business."

As the Globe reported yesterday, Menino has called for Major League Baseball to invest up to $8 million in a new Fenway Park, and has urged the team's owners to take on two major Fenway landowners as partners in the ballpark.

Menino first offered the proposals on "The Boston Globe/WBZ News Conference" program scheduled to air this morning.

Apparently caught off guard, the Red Sox have declined to comment on the mayor's proposals.

While some observers suggest the mayor is adopting a tough public negotiating posture with the Red Sox, others say they believe he may be concerned about public opposition to investing taxpayers' money in a new ballpark.

In a bid to force Major League Baseball to assume some of the costs, Menino wants the Red Sox to retain the $8 million it currently pays to smaller-market teams in revenue sharing and use the money to help repay any city investment in a new ballpark.

League officials, however, rejected the idea, noting that revenue sharing is covered by the league's collective bargaining agreement.

To change it, the Red Sox would have to secure agreements from other team owners and the players union - a formidable challenge that could take months, if not years, with no assurances of success, ballpark boosters said.

Even if the Red Sox pushed, it's unclear whether the league would embrace the idea, since it would set a precedent for other team owners anxious to secure public investment in their proposed new ballpark projects. It would also upset the league's attempt to guarantee a minimum standard of competitiveness among the teams.

Menino has also ruled out creating a stadium authority to acquire the new ballpark site and build the new Fenway Park. That idea, promoted by Robert Walsh, Red Sox development adviser and the team's liaison with the city, was an option the city has been seriously considering for months.

According to city officials, the purpose of the new stadium authority would be to access the city's bonding power and ability to borrow at lower interest rates.

"I do not see a stadium authority in my future," Menino said. "I do not like that idea at all."

Menino's call for dramatic changes in the team's financing plan comes as a surprise since he has been one of the strongest advocates of a new ballpark and he directed the team to build its new ballpark in the Fenway area.

In recent weeks, state officials have encouraged the Sox by signaling their willingness to consider public investment in infrastructure before lawmakers adjourn for the year in July.

While Menino estimated the Red Sox will need $250 million in public funds, the Red Sox have not said how much public investment the team needs in the project. The team's plan includes a new $350 million ballpark, major infrastructure improvements, two parking garages, and the acquisition of 14 acres of privately owned land adjacent to Fenway Park.

Menino insisted that a new ballpark bill could still pass this year. The city, he said, remains willing to invest in acquiring land as long as a return is guaranteed.

"I am not ruling out using city bonds as long as we have a demonstrated way to get back the money," Menino said. "The new convention center is the model here.

"We invested money in the new convention center, but we are getting every dollar we spent on land-takings back through new hotel taxes and the sale of taxi medallions. That's the kind of thing we're looking for with a new ballpark," he said.

The interview with Mayor Menino will be shown today on the "Boston Globe/WBZ News Conference" at 11 a.m. on Channel 4.

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