One of Fenway's last hurrahs

Red Sox need new park to keep money flowing

July 14, 1999|By BLOOMBERG NEWS

BOSTON -- Boston Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette has no qualms about saying it: Building a luxury stadium to replace Fenway Park is as much about keeping up with the New York Yankees as anything else.

Duquette said a three-game series against the Yankees in the Back Bay of Boston draws about 100,000, while a similar series in the Bronx pulls in about 150,000 for their New York rival, which is are trying to figure out how to replace Yankee Stadium.

"That's their problem," Duquette said. "But it would be bad news for us if they built a new park first."

And so, disregarding some local opposition, Fenway Park, opened in 1912 on the same day as Detroit's Tiger Stadium and renovated at least four times, is scheduled to be replaced. The new Fenway, to be just across Yawkey Way with home plate situated 206 yards from today's home plate, could be christened in 2003, said John Harrington, the club president since 1973.

Tonight's Major League Baseball All-Star Game is scheduled to be the third and last at Fenway.

Harrington, seated in a meeting room in the Red Sox' Fenway offices and looking through a picture window onto the field below, said his biggest problem is emotionally letting the old ballpark go.

"When [former owner] Jean Yawkey was still alive, she told us we could do all the planning we wanted, but we weren't going to leave this place," Harrington said. "It was home."

Yawkey died in 1992, and seven years later the Red Sox revealed plans to move to a new place that will simulate Fenway from the 37-foot high Green Monster wall in left to all the outfield nooks and crannies. The new ballpark will hold about 44,000 around 10,000 more than the current capacity and is expected to bring in a million more fans than the 2.25 million projected this season, Harrington said.

That's a lot more money for the Red Sox to spend on players and keep up with the Yankees, who have won a record 24 World Series titles since the last time the Red Sox won in 1918.

The Red Sox are willing to put up about $300 million toward the $545 million ballpark. They hope the city and commonwealth of Massachusetts will fund the rest, including land acquisition, infrastructure and the cost of two parking garages.

Though Harrington said he didn't perceive a public vote on the issue, "the city council and state legislature are going to have to be educated to allocate money for the project."

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said that the Red Sox' proposed investment would be the largest thus far in any new ballpark, dwarfing the Giants' $200 million private financing of San Francisco's new Pacific Bell Park which is scheduled to open next season.

"Even five years ago that would've been an astounding amount of money for a ballclub to be putting into its own stadium," Selig said.

When the most recent wave of new ballparks began with new stadiums in Baltimore and Cleveland during the early 1990s, lotteries and taxes paid almost completely for construction.

Some Red Sox fans aren't ready to concede that they need to sacrifice Fenway to keep up with the Yankees. A group called Save Fenway Park is organizing opposition to tearing down the place where Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice and Nomar Garciaparra played during the past 87 years.

Though police have cordoned off the streets around Fenway Park during this week's three days of All-Star festivities, members of the group have been meeting nightly at a tavern on Landsdowne Street behind the Green Monster.

"Fenway Park's site and the ballpark itself already incorporate many of the attributes designed into today's most respected and successful ballparks," said Andrew Pate, a spokesman for the group.

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