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Red Sox in talks with Fenway landowners

By Globe Staff, 04/05/00

The team's efforts appear to be aimed at accommodating Menino, who last week stunned the Red Sox by publicly insisting on more private investment in a ballpark. Menino also pressed the Sox to work out a deal with Sage and the D'Angelo family, and ruled out the creation of a stadium authority to build and own the new ballpark.

Clearly caught off guard by Menino's tough stance after months of negotiations with the city, Red Sox chief executive John Harrington requested a meeting with the mayor to discuss the city's concerns about the project. But according to city officials, the mayor's schedule could not immediately accommodate Harrington, who was left cooling his heels for a few days.

The two men are now scheduled to meet tomorrow.

Menino, however, did give the team a glimmer of hope. While not backing off his demand the city be repaid for any investment it makes, he agreed that increased property taxes generated by new development that is expected to accompany the project could count toward his demand for a payback.

That agreement could be significant. If the city counts increased property tax revenue in the Fenway area as a return on its investment, the team may not need to identify a direct revenue stream for every dollar the city invests in the project. A much smaller Fenway project proposed by developer Steve Samuels next door to the new ballpark, for example, is expected to produce a net increase of more than $1 million in new tax revenue for the city.

Fenway Park and two other parcels owned by the Red Sox are assessed by the city at $25.7 million, and generate tax payments of $880,000 a year.

But while Menino opened one financing door, he closed another yesterday. The mayor said he was willing to use the city's bonding authority to acquire the site, but clearly ruled out using bonds for construction.

"The city can help pay for the site as long as we have a revenue stream that allows us to be paid back," Menino said. "But I don't want to use bonds to build a new ballpark. There's a limit to how much we can bond and the city has lots of other needs."

After Menino's comments, the Red Sox appear anxious to cement some agreements with Fenway landowners, particularly Sage and D'Angelo. Parcels controlled by the two Fenway landowners represent roughly 30 percent of the 14 acres needed for the team's $600 million project.

But like the new ballpark itself, the Sage/Sox land swap is far from a done deal. Sage and the Red Sox have signed only a "very general letter of agreement" to "work together in good faith" toward an exchange of parcels, said sources familiar with the negotiations. They have not agreed on the value of either parcel, or any other terms of the proposed land swap, sources said.

It's unclear, for example, whether a cash payment will be involved by either party, or if the Red Sox will simply take an option on Sage's parcel.

The team plans to build a parking garage, designed to serve the team and some luxury box patrons, on the current HoJos site.

Sage did not return calls yesterday, and the Red Sox declined to comment.

Menino has been pushing the Red Sox to cut land acquisition costs, which he estimated at $100 million. The team is expected to ask the city to help fund the acquisition and cleanup of the site adjacent to Fenway Park.

While the Red Sox have not detailed their financing plan, Menino estimates the team will need as much as $250 million in state and city investment in the project.

The team has scheduled additional meetings with the D'Angelos this week, but does not appear to be close to reaching an agreement on acquiring the roughly 2 1/2 acres owned by the family.

Nonetheless, Menino's sudden call for more private investment in the project has ballpark boosters worried he is trying to kill the deal.

Yesterday some legislative leaders said they were puzzled by the mayor's weekend switch in his position. Without the mayor's strong support for the project, they said, it's unlikely a ballpark bill would be adopted before lawmakers adjourn in July.

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