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.