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The Boston Globe

Metro

Red Sox use segment of Van Ness Street during games

This article was reported by Colman M. Herman, Stephen Kurkjian and Callum Borchers of the Initiative for Investigative Reporting at Northeastern University. It was written by Borchers.

For the average Red Sox fan, finding a parking spot near Fenway Park means cramming the family car into a congested lot and paying $25 or more. But for some lucky few with connections, it means pulling into a gated parking zone next to Fenway’s redbrick façade and handing the keys to a valet.

The VIP service might be nothing but a kind gesture by the Red Sox — except that the gated parking area is actually a segment of Van Ness Street, a public way, which the club commandeers hours before each of its 81 home games without paying a penny to the city of Boston.

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The Red Sox set up temporary barriers at both ends of Van Ness and assign security guards to admit and park about 40 vehicles on both sides of the street, and even on the sidewalk. A reporting team that visited the ballpark on multiple occasions found some of the cars belonged to players. Others were registered to team staffers and friends: a physical therapist, a dry cleaner, and a former marketing executive of a Red Sox nonprofit.

Neither the Red Sox nor the city could produce a document authorizing such use of Van Ness, but both sides defended the practice.

Dot Joyce, spokeswoman for Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, cited the city’s traffic rules and regulations, which exclude vehicles from Van Ness Street beginning three hours before Red Sox home games and ending two hours after they conclude. In practice, however, one Red Sox security official said the team typically shuts down the street seven hours before the first pitch.

When the Boston Transportation Department added Van Ness to its list of streets that could be regularly closed for traffic, in 1993, it included no provision for Red Sox parking. But Joyce said the city does not object to team personnel parking on the street.

“We close it off for public safety reasons,” she said, to benefit both players and public. However, she would not address questions about non-players who park on the street.

Red Sox spokeswoman Susan Goodenow said the team is entitled to free game-day use of Van Ness Street, thanks to a decades-old pact between former owner Thomas Yawkey and the city. She said Yawkey once owned the land beside Fenway Park that was used to extend Van Ness Street to its current length. Yawkey sold the property to the city for $1 in 1940, Goodenow said, and “a condition of this sale was that the Red Sox would be allowed to close the street to the public during baseball games.”

Suffolk County Registry of Deeds records tell a somewhat different story. In 1945, records show, the city’s Board of Street Commissioners took land owned by the Red Sox and three other companies via an easement, and used it to pave a Van Ness Street extension.

There is nothing in land records to suggest the Red Sox have a right to use the street on game days, according to real estate experts who examined documents on behalf of the Initiative for Investigative Reporting.

Other public ways closed by the Transportation Department are narrow passages, such as Beach Street in Chinatown Park, or streets where pedestrian traffic is unusually heavy, like a segment of Summer Street near Downtown Crossing. Among the 12 city streets where vehicles are banned, Van Ness is the only one used to benefit a single, private entity such as the Red Sox.

Melissa Tabeek, an intern at the Initiative for Investigative Reporting, contributed to this report.

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