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Sox appear on firmer footing in Fenway

By Meg Vaillancourt, Globe Staff, 04/07/00

After being caught off guard by one of their strongest political allies last week, the Boston Red Sox appeared to regain some footing yesterday following "constructive" meetings with Governor Paul Cellucci and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino - two of the four political leaders who will determine the fate of the team's proposed new Fenway Park.

Red Sox chief John Harrington did not emerge with a definitive financing plan for the $600 million project. But city and state officials familiar with the talks said the team made "encouraging progress" toward its bid to secure public investment for the project.

In particular, Harrington made headway with Menino, who last week suddenly made demands that threatened to block the team's plan. It was the first face-to-face meeting since Menino surprised the Red Sox by calling for more private investment in the project.

"There's no deal yet, but it's clear there may be a way to get to yes," said one public official familiar with the talks.

Harrington met with Menino and several aides for more than an hour at the Parkman House yesterday morning. Following recent meetings with Senate President Thomas Birmingham and House Speaker Thomas Finneran, Harrington also met with Cellucci at the State House yesterday afternoon.

Harrington and Menino declined to comment on the financing plans under review, but according to city sources, the mayor reaffirmed his support for the project.

At the same time, Menino also narrowed the team's options yesterday. Asked to clarify how far the city might go to assist with the new ballpark project, Menino specifically ruled out a stadium authority and municipal ownership of the new ballpark.

"The stadium authority idea is dead," said one public official familiar with the talks.

Nonetheless, after the meeting, the Red Sox sounded more upbeat than they have in weeks. "It was a constructive meeting and they had a good dialogue," said team spokeswoman Kathryn St. John. "We appreciate the mayor's time and continued support."

Harrington also sought reassurance yesterday from Cellucci, who recently returned from a trade mission to China. A key supporter of the team's bid for a new Fenway Park, the governor has carefully reserved judgment on how much the state should invest in the project until the team presents a formal financing plan.

In the past, Cellucci has said he supports infrastructure assistance for the project and has cited the New England Patriots' new stadium deal as a good model for the Red Sox. Under the Patriots bill, which was endorsed by the governor, Finneran, and Birmingham, the state will receive $1.4 million a year for 25 years in return for $70 million in infrastructure assistance for the new Foxboro Stadium.

Led by team vice president James Healy, the Red Sox also met with the D'Angelo family, owners of the Twins Enterprise souvenir shops on Yawkey Way. One idea under review calls for the D'Angelos to relocate their souvenir businesses to shops surrounding the new ballpark, but no agreements were reached.

Last week, Menino pressed the Red Sox to "partner" with the D'Angelos as a way to cut land acquisition costs since the family owns a large parcel of land within the footprint of the proposed new Fenway Park.

No consensus on a possible financing package has emerged. But it appears likely that the team will ask the city to assist with land acquistion and cleanup, and that state funds will be sought for infrastructure and possibly for two garages in the plan.

Both city and state officals are pushing the team for some payback on their investments. Menino has said the city will consider the net increase in property taxes from development generated by investment in the new ballpark as part of its payback.

After months of negotiations with the city and state, the Red Sox have steadfastly declined to specify how they hope to craft an agreement on possible public aid for the project. No timetable for annoucing the financing plan has been set, but with the Legislature scheduled to adjourn in July, the team recently intensified the pace of negotiations. The Red Sox are slated to meet with city and state officials again today.

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