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VIP seating for Pops shows at Hatch Shell questioned

BOSTON --Prime seating that separated VIPs from other Independence Day celebrants crowding the Hatch Memorial Shell on the Esplanade for a Boston Pops concert violated the trust that created the memorial, according to the register of Suffolk Probate and Family Court.

Register Richard Iannella said Thursday that he'll file a lawsuit if he can't reach an agreement with the Department of Recreation and Conservation to end the practice.

"If they don't want to compromise, I'm left with no alternative," he said.

On Wednesday, Iannella sent a letter to DCR Commissioner Steven Burrington in which he said the trust created by the late Marie Hatch to construct the Hatch Memorial Shell specified the memorial is to remain "open to the public."

The special seating treats public property as if it were private property, Ianella said.

In his letter, he wrote that he first received complaints about the seating in 2001, and noted that a radio station and furniture store often promote prime seating for summer concerts as a contest prize. Iannella said his job duties include ensuring a person's final wishes are followed and bringing the issue to the court's attention if they aren't.

"I ask that you take whatever steps are necessary to adhere to the terms of the trust ... by keeping all areas free and open to the public -- both now and in the future," Iannella wrote in his letter.

Joe O'Keefe, a Department of Conservation and Recreation spokesman, told The Boston Globe that Iannella is misreading the will. O'Keefe said that when Hatch set aside $300,000 to create a concert area, she prohibited only those events that would be "sectarian, political, or controversial."

"The way we look at it is, in order to attract major events such as the Boston Pops, and to make them available to the general public, having a small number of seats available for the sponsors is not unreasonable," O'Keefe said. "His reading of the will is inaccurate. The bottom line is the general public has access. It's clearly not in violation of the will."

Iannella said Thursday that he has no problem with sponsorships and the advertising that accompanies them. But, he said, "You can not have the reserved seating."

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