[sidebar] The Boston Phoenix
July 20 - 27, 2000


An outrage

What are our elected officials thinking? Public
money should not be spent on the Red Sox.

Over the past several weeks, the Boston Phoenix has written more editorials on Fenway Park than on any other subject. That's because we feel so deeply about the issue. Yes, the Red Sox' proposal to build a new baseball park in the Fenway affects our business: our offices at 126 Brookline Avenue are among the properties that would be displaced under the plan. On a larger scale, the proposal affects the Fenway neighborhood -- which we're an integral part of, given that we've been headquartered here for the past 16 years. But most important, this scheme to build a new ballpark in the heart of the city affects the whole of Boston, which we've covered for more than three decades.

Mayor Tom Menino's decision to fully fund the Sox' request -- $140 million in city money to pay for the needed land-takings and site preparation -- is truly outrageous. It's time to move beyond reasoned, calculated arguments and register our indignation.

It is outrageous that any branch of government would violate the Constitution and use the powers of eminent domain to take private property from private owners for the benefit of a private enterprise. Especially an enterprise like a professional baseball team -- which is in the business of providing big-profit entertainment to the masses by paying a small number of entertainers megabucks to perform about seven months a year. Is that really worth dislocating thousands of other people? Is that really worth the probable millions of dollars in losses and expenses that dislocated business owners will sustain? Is it really worth destroying family businesses that have been built up over many years of hard work?

It is outrageous that in the 11th hour of this process, a narrow elite of elected officials would even consider cobbling together and approving a scheme to use taxpayer funds to finance an ill-thought-out, unconscionably expensive private project. Especially one that will fatten the pockets of a few already enriched private owners and athletes. Opinion polls show that the public opposes public financing, period. Why won't the politicians listen?

It is outrageous that government would tax citizens further through parking surcharges (even if they're levied only on game days). It's outrageous that elected officials would approve additional hotel and meals taxes. Not everyone who comes to the Fenway goes to Red Sox games. Who knows? Perhaps they're going to the new Landmark Center to shop, see a movie, or work out at their health club. Why should these people bear more than their share of the burden of paying for a new ballpark? And why are elected officials supporting new parking garages that will encourage even more people to drive their cars into an already congested neighborhood?

It is outrageous for the government to use its credit capacity to finance a facility for a private big-bucks profit-making enterprise when other, far more critical social needs must still be funded. We are facing nearly $1 billion in cost overruns for the Big Dig. The new convention center in South Boston is sure to come in over budget -- some landowners are threatening to sue to get a fair price for their property, steel prices have risen, and a private hotel developer is balking at paying for a $40 million heating system. We are in the middle of a brutal housing crisis. Six hundred thousand citizens in the Commonwealth live without health insurance. And the mayor of Boston thinks it's okay to spend $140 million of the city's money -- money whose return cannot be guaranteed -- on a new baseball park? Where are his priorities? Government is not in the business of spending its money on high-risk private enterprises.

It is outrageous that every alternative site has simply been dismissed because, for more than a year, public officials refused to deliberate the facts of this one proposal. The reason the Sox' plan is so expensive -- $627 million, soon to be $1 billion -- is that it's being built in a bustling, urban residential and retail district.

It is outrageous that for more than a year the Red Sox have stonewalled the public on the real costs of their proposal -- and that they continue to do so. It is outrageous that our elected officials, put in office to mind the public's business, have let themselves be seduced into approving this taxpayer-funded boondoggle.

Apart from narrowly defined and clearly planned-out infrastructure assistance from the government, the Red Sox should be required to fund their new ballpark through whatever financial resources they have or can obtain -- including additional equity investment. It is, quite simply, an outrage that they are not being made to do so.

What do you think? Send an e-mail to letters[a]phx.com.