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Red Sox stress goal to keep Fenway name

By Meg Vaillancourt, Globe Staff, 04/06/00

Under pressure to find more private financing for a new Fenway Park, the Boston Red Sox stressed that their goal is to keep naming rights off the table.

"Nothing has changed," said team spokeswoman Kathryn St. John. "It's always been our strong desire to retain the name Fenway Park. We don't want to go to naming rights and our fans don't want it."

Mindful of the team's expected bid for up to $250 million in public investment in the $600 million ballpark project, the Red Sox's precisely worded statement was also designed not to alienate legislative leaders - and to leave the team wiggle room. "But we will consider any proposal our elected officials want us to review," St. John added.

With opening day just around the corner, it appears few political leaders want to risk Red Sox fans' ire by publicly insisting that the team remove the Fenway Park name from its proposed new ballpark.

"I like the name Fenway Park, and I'd like them to keep it," said Governor Paul Cellucci. "But if they need to sell the naming rights, that's a decision they will have to make."

House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, a key opponent of public subsidies for professional sports teams, didn't rule out the idea, nor did he demand the team sell the rights.

Instead he suggested that as long as the Red Sox limit their request for state funds to infrastructure, it was up to them to decide whether they need to call the new ballpark something other than Fenway Park.

Finneran, however, made it clear he will limit what qualifies for infrastructure aid. Requests to improve surrounding roads, lighting, utility service, subway, commuter rail, and flood control could qualify for state funds, he said. But he stopped short of endorsing state aid to preserve the infield of 89-year-old Fenway Park as a public park.

Asked whether the two proposed garages included in the team's plan would count as "infrastructure," Finneran was skeptical but did not reject the idea. "That's a little bit of a reach," he said.

The team estimates it will cost $90 million to build the two garages, and since they will be used 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, they're considered to be the cash cows of the Sox ballpark project. Yesterday Finneran left himself negotiating room by declining to rule out some state investment. Whoever invests in the garages "should control the proceeds from them," he said.

As the Globe has reported, sports financing analysts estimate that the Red Sox could raise up to $100 million by selling naming rights, but the local analysts argue the expected backlash of a name change would substantially reduce the value.

Red Sox chief John Harrington is slated to meet with Mayor Thomas M. Menino today to discuss how the city might help by acquiring the 14-acre ballpark site. It's the first meeting since the mayor stunned the team by proposing that Major League Baseball invest up to $8 million in the project and by ruling out a new stadium authority to build and own the new ballpark. The Sox were already discussing a possible landswap with a Fenway hotelier prior to Menino's coments, but intensified negotiations with landowners following his remarks. No land deals have been finalized.

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