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R: PHX, S: FEATURES, D: 12/28/2000, B: >, A: >,

Making amends

Mayor Menino has apologized for the South Boston deal. Now he should apologize for the Fenway ballpark debacle.

Boston Mayor Tom Menino recently apologized for agreeing to a deal that would have funneled millions of dollars -- some say as much as $65 million -- in mitigation benefits to South Boston for waterfront development. When the finer points of the deal came to light in the Boston Globe back in May, political leaders around the city erupted in anger. Why was South Boston being given 51 percent of the linkage funds from waterfront development (with the rest going into a citywide pool), when neighborhoods affected by such development typically see just 10 to 20 percent of these funds? And why were local business leaders being allowed to negotiate for additional mitigation money outside the purview of the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA)?

The short answer is that the mayor desperately wanted two things: 1) to see waterfront development go forward (for which he needed support from South Boston city councilor Jimmy Kelly, State Senator Stephen Lynch, and State Representative Jack Hart); and 2) presumably, to win re-election (for which he needed voter-rich South Boston). And so the mayor, in short, gave away the store.

Give him credit for taking it back. When housing advocates sued to challenge the arrangement, the mayor settled the lawsuit by scrapping the deal. His apology was needed -- and overdue. Indeed, the need for any apology at all arose from the mayor's hubris. He wanted local support for the convention center and for waterfront development, and he apparently didn't care what he had to do to get it.

We're seeing the same sort of clouded judgment with the mayor's support of the Red Sox' plan to build a new ballpark in the Fenway -- and the continued political influence of South Boston in the mayor's refusal to consider Southie as a potential alternative location. Menino's strategy in the Fenway is different, however, because he's dealing with a politically weaker community. So rather than attempt to buy off the Fenway, Menino is simply trying to ram the development down the neighborhood's throat. What does he care if he ticks off area residents? Few of them bother to vote in municipal elections. (The Sox' plan for a new park would displace the offices of the Boston Phoenix. Visit for our past coverage of the issue.)

The plan to build a new park in the Fenway is not only morally and legally wrong; as has become increasingly evident, it is also fiscally unsound. It requires that a private, for-profit corporation be given $312 million in public subsidies. Further, it requires the city to take, by eminent domain, about 15 acres of privately owned land. About $140 million has been budgeted for the land-taking -- but costs are projected to be much higher.

The Sox cannot obtain private financing for their $353 million share of the $665 million project -- which everyone, including traditional lenders, knows is a low-ball estimate. (Knowledgeable sources estimate that total costs may ultimately exceed $1 billion.) Along with the costs of taking the land, there are a host of other unknown costs, such as site clean-up, that the Sox must pay under their current agreement with the legislature and mayor. The mayor continues to appear oblivious to these realities, and instead blames the Sox' lack of cash on their $160 million deal with Manny Ramirez. He also harshly criticizes the Sox for not having made deals with private landowners who will be affected by the building of a new park.

Well, there's a reason the Sox can't make deals with some of the landowners. Take the D'Angelos, who own about a quarter of the land needed to build the new park. They want a fair market price for their land; and, since their lucrative souvenir business would be eliminated by the new park, the D'Angelos want permission to sell their wares inside the new stadium. But that contract, along with contracts for all the other concessions, is already held by Aramark, the Sox' largest limited partner. The Sox are counting on Aramark to advance some contract money to help finance the new stadium; it's hard to see why the concessionaire would do so only to give up some of its inside-the-park business.

The mayor's continued insistence that a new park for the Red Sox must be built in the Fenway shows that -- despite his recent apology for the error of his ways in South Boston -- he still doesn't get it.

He should abandon this ill-conceived plan before any of the city's money is wasted on the project. And then he should issue another public apology -- to the people of the Fenway, the Red Sox, the legislature, and all the citizens of Boston for continuing to support a proposal as morally, legally, and fiscally dubious as this one.

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