The Boston Red Sox tomorrow will announce that the team is staying put in Fenway Park, baseball's oldest and smallest stadium.
The announcement marks the beginining of an effort to revitalize the neighborhood that is later expected to include a push for public financing for improved streets and sidewalks, a new MBTA train station at Yawkey Way, and one or more garages, say Red Sox executives. The team also wants to have a say in development decisions around the park that could affect the Fenway experience, the executives said yesterday.
The team's plans to remain in Fenway Park are not contingent on securing city and state aid for improvements, the executives said. But the Red Sox ownership, which has made considerable changes inside the park since buying the team three years ago, will be looking for the city and state to finance major improvements in the neighborhood.
The team is ''looking for various government entities to step up," said one team owner, who asked not to be identified. ''They'll step up, and are hoping that others will step up, too."
Charles Steinberg, the team's executive vice president of public affairs, said the news conference tomorrow is part of the team's plans for an annual walk-through to showcase annual improvements to the ballpark. He would neither confirm nor deny that the team would be staying at Fenway.
''What we're focused on now, as we are usually, is the description and depiction of what fans can look forward to this coming year," he said.
The announcement would end a long cat-and-mouse game by the team's ownership, which has every year made considerable improvements in Fenway such as expanded seating and concessions but refused to commit to staying long term. It is also a dramatic reversal from the Red Sox's stance just five years ago, when the previous ownership argued that the team needed a new ballpark to be financially competitive in the league.
The announcement, however, will shift the discussion on the future from inside the park to outside the park, and is sure to renew speculation about whether the city or state will want to spend money on infrastructure and other improvements. In 2000, when the previous Red Sox management was focused on building a new ballpark, the state agreed to provide $100 million for infrastructure construction, and the city agreed to spend $140 million for acquisition and clean-up costs for the land. The team's new owners ''remember that too," said the Red Sox partner. ''They have read the papers."
But the fiscal situation of city and state government has deteriorated considerably since then, and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has been recently discouraging any idea that the city is in a position to provide financial assistance. Red Sox lobbyists have been on Beacon Hill recently letting key legislators know of their goals..
The team will be looking for support for such things as a new train station at Yawkey, improved streets and sidewalks, and cleaning up the tiny Muddy River in Kenmore Square. Parking garages are also high on the team's wish list.
The Red Sox efforts to develop more of the Fenway neighborhood, largely under wraps until now, have begun to surface. Earlier this month, the Red Sox confirmed they were in discussions to buy three relatively small properties around Fenway Park that would allow them to continue to move offices out of the ballpark and make more room for revenue-generating fan activities.
Under the new ownership of John Henry and his limited partners, the Sox have made a variety of renovations to the park, expanded concessions, and boosted ticket prices substantially, as they tried to wring additional revenue from the park. (The
They also plan to renovate the glassed-in .406 Club, expand seating there from 606 seats to 816 seats, and are shopping for a naming-rights sponsor to that remodeled area. The team also added a new concourse area near Gate E, which will serve fried chicken and other additions to the ballpark.
Mike Dee, the Red Sox's chief operating officer, said last week that the Sox would like to ''activate" the perimeter of Fenway, as part of attracting crowds year round.
''I don't want to be an 81-day-a-year facility," he said.
The team has also been in discussions with Boston developer John Rosenthal, who holds the air rights to three parcels over the Massachusetts Turnpike just behind Fenway Park. The Red Sox had objected to Rosenthal's plans for two residential towers because they feared the buildings would obscure the views from inside the park. But the relationship has improved lately.
"We're having ongoing discussion and planning together," Rosenthal said yesterday. One possibility being discussed could shift Rosenthal's development to another nearby turnpike parcel.
In addition to Henry, Red Sox owners Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino are scheduled to spell out their plans to keep the team at Fenway tomorrow morningto an invitation-only meeting of the executive committee of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. The city's public improvements committee on Thursday will take up a proposal that would allow outdoor seating on Lansdowne Street.
After revealing plans to stay at Fenway, the Red Sox are expected to launch a series of meetings with the city and neighborhood groups to develop a comprehensive plan for the neighborhood. That would likely include new restaurants, housing and parking.