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Sox seek landmark status for Fenway

US tax credits could save team millions in renovation costs

Red Sox officials said yesterday that they have applied for landmark status for Fenway Park, a move that could save them millions of dollars in renovation costs by making the team eligible for federal tax credits.

''We applied to the National Park Service to have Fenway placed on the National Historic Register" about a month ago, said Janet Marie Smith, the Red Sox vice president of planning and development, five months after the team said in March that it plans to stay put in Fenway, Major League Baseball's oldest and smallest stadium, rather than build a stadium.

The Red Sox are in the midst of a nearly decade-long program of $200 million in renovations at Fenway, which was built in 1912, officials said. A building that has been granted landmark status by the National Park Service can be eligible for a rehabilitation tax credit that ''equals 20 percent of the amount spent in a certified rehabilitation of a certified historic structure," according to the Park Service's website.

Getting landmark status from the National Park Service is a multistep process, said Smith, who could not say how long it would take to complete the process.

She also said she could not put a dollar value on what rehabilitation tax credits might be worth to the team.

Attempts to reach the Park Service last night were unsuccessful.

Getting landmark status also could give the Red Sox a greater say in how development unfolds outside of Fenway Park, said Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College in Northampton who studies sports.

Since buying the Red Sox three years ago, the new ownership of John Henry and his limited partners has looked to revitalize areas around the ballpark. (The New York Times Co., parent company of The Boston Globe, owns 17 percent of the Red Sox.)

Smith discussed Fenway's potential landmark status shortly before giving a presentation to the Boston Landmarks Commission last night on the team's long-term plans.

In many cases, it can make more economic sense to tear down an old building than to preserve it. The tax credit is designed to give property owners an incentive to save historic structures.

The rehabilitation tax credit has ''enormous potential value" to the Red Sox, said Lawrence S. DiCara, a former Boston city councilor who practices real estate law at Nixon Peabody LLP.

But the tax credit comes with strings attached. Once a building has been declared a landmark, the owner may have less flexibility in making future changes.

''It can limit what you can do going forward," DiCara said.

To his knowledge, no other Major League Baseball team has obtained landmark status for its ballpark.

According to the federal government's list of National Historic Landmarks, the only other Major League stadiums considered for landmark status were Chicago's Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park. Both were deemed eligible for landmark status, but the process never was completed. Comiskey ultimately was demolished.

In today's economics, it can make sense for a team to build a ballpark every few decades.

The Red Sox have a ''product and a brand that doesn't require them to have a new ballpark," DiCara said.

The team also plans to add seats atop the so-called laundry building, located in back of Fenway's centerfield wall. Currently, the two-story building is used for restrooms, concessions, and functions for large groups attending games.

In three years or so, the team plans add to three stories to the laundry building; the roof could then accommodate about 200 or 300 additional seats, Smith said. The three new floors might be occupied the Red Sox front office.

Chris Reidy can be reached at reidy@globe.com.

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