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Private funds are the key to a new park

By Derrick Z. Jackson, Globe Staff, 04/07/00

From a sordid pillaging of the taxpayer to the pleasant shock of the first privately funded baseball stadium in nearly 40 years, the Red Sox have much to learn from Milwaukee and San Francisco before being allowed to touch a dime, let alone $250 million of public funds for a new Fenway Park.

Those who know your stadiums must be thinking that Milwaukee has nothing to teach taxpayers except the usurping of democracy. That city's Miller Park is scheduled to open next year, after a year's delay caused by a crane collapse that killed three workers. When it opens, it will have cost at least $400 million, with taxpayers footing at least 75 percent of the costs.

Voters rejected a sports lottery for a new stadium in 1995. But Governor Tommy Thompson, who slashed welfare for the poor, gave Brewers president Bud Selig a blank check for AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Center-fielders). The state slapped a five-county tax on the Milwaukee area. All the Brewers had to pay was $90 million on a then $250 million stadium.

But they still cried poverty. After Miller Beer paid about $40 million to name the stadium, the team sought more public financing for the remaining $50 million. That attempt failed and rumors swirled about the Brewers leaving. The rumors flushed out fresh money. The Bradley Foundation loaned the team $20 million. Another foundation added a $1 million loan. The chamber of commerce got eight major businesses to provide $14 million in loans. This was $35 million in loans from private sources that had not been tapped before. The city of Milwaukee provided the other $15 million.

The $35 million, though small, broke the logjam. It is a hint of the fresh possibilities in a booming Boston that surely has far more private play money than Milwaukee to build a new stadium or refurbish the old Fenway.

Instead of helping the Red Sox gouge the public, our chamber of commerce should organize loans from FleetBoston, John Hancock, and the Route 128 dot-coms. If that happened, we might be so happy we might not even care if Raytheon (legendary beneficiaries of state welfare) buys the naming rights and calls the stadium Bombs Away Ballpark.

If the Red Sox and the chamber do some heavy lifting with CEOs, instead of breathing heavy on taxpayer funds, you never know where we might end up. We might end up as the next San Francisco.

San Francisco-area taxpayers voted down new taxes for stadiums four times. The Giants opted for what is now Pacific Bell Park, a privately built $345-million stadium on leased city waterfront land.

To fund Pacific Bell, the Giants got $155 million in loans from Chase Manhattan bank and rounded up the rest with personal seat licenses, naming rights, and sponsorships.

Taxpayers reportedly put in about $30 million for street improvements, land acquisition, and costs to the Port of San Francisco. Some costs will be reimbursed by the team through taxes. The taxpayer share is less than 10 percent of costs, not the 75 percent in Milwaukee and not the 40 to 50 percent being hinted at for a new $600 million Fenway Park.

The new location, pretty park, and renewed good will helped the Giants sell most of their tickets before the season began. "We had a strong economy, Silicon Valley nearby and big companies," Giants owner Peter Magowan has said. But baseball's commissioner, Bud Selig, fearing fan revolts against taxpayer-funded stadiums (He has already met with Globe editors and reporters to urge public funds for Fenway), says Pacific Bell Park is "a wonderful story. Does that mean the same economic pattern can be used everywhere? No."

But it can be used in Boston, which, like San Francisco, is in Forbes's top 10 cities for doing business. There is no hiding the strong economy here, from the third highest average annual worker pay in the nation to the tripling of corporate jet use out of Hanscom in the last six years.

Milwaukee showed the importance of private funds even in a taxpayer disaster. San Francisco showed how to avoid a sordid pillaging altogether.

The Red Sox, in a region of riches, have no right to ask for public funds until they first produce corporate aid for a new Fenway. After all, if the Red Sox cannot come up with funders now, who will fill their $100,000 skyboxes later? It will not be the taxpayers.

And it will not be Bombs Away Ballpark. It will be just a bomb.

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