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Malden

Lease agreement opens way for baseball stadium

The Malden Redevelopment Authority , National Grid, and developer Alex Bok have reached agreement on the terms of a 40-year lease to build a $50 million minor league baseball stadium on the site of a former gas distribution facility on Commercial Street.

A letter of intent outlining key terms of the lease, such as rent payment to the authority, must be approved by the state attorney general’s office before a final lease is signed. “We’re cautiously optimistic the attorney general will approve the proposal,” said Stephen Wishoski, executive director of the authority.

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Jillian Fennimore, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, declined to comment on the review.

The redevelopment authority would lease the 6.4-acre site from National Grid, and then sublease it to Boston Baseball Field of Dreams, Bok’s development group. The 6,372-seat stadium would host a team from the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, with opening day planned in April 2015.

The authority’s board voted on Nov. 20 to authorize Wisho­ski to sign the letter of intent, negotiated over the past several months.

‘We’re cautiously optimistic the attorney general will approve the proposal.’

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“We’re pleased the letter of intent is nearly finalized,” Deborah Drew, a spokeswoman for National Grid, wrote in an e-mail. “This represents a big step forward for the project and we’re looking forward to beginning work on the lease.”

Over the next six to nine months, Bok plans an aggressive push to finalize other essential elements of the project: negotiate land deals with three adjacent property owners; acquire a franchise from the Atlantic League; and secure private financing.

“Now that we have the right to control the National Grid site, we have a pathway to move forward,” Bok said in an interview at City Hall.

Bok must acquire three parcels, totaling 2.7 acres, along Canal and Charles streets bordering the National Grid site. The land is now occupied by three small businesses: Collex Collision, L & L Services, and Spadafora Auto Parts. Bok attempted to secure options on the properties last spring, but was turned down, he said.

“They wanted us to come back to them, once we had control’’ of the National Grid land, Bok said. “The interests of those landowners need to be respected. We have a plan. We’ll have to see how it fits into theirs.”

With at least one property owner, Bok could be in for some difficulty.

“My clients have no interest in selling their property to them and losing their business,” said Robert Shaer, a Boston lawyer representing Collex Collision.

George A. McLaughlin, a lawyer representing Spadafora and L & L Services, could not be reached for comment.

If Bok cannot negotiate a purchase, the redevelopment authority could take the parcels by eminent domain. An urban renewal plan, which would be required for a land taking, is being prepared.

“We’re still hoping and expecting this will be a private deal,” Wishoski said. “Eminent domain, or any use of that law, will absolutely be a last resort.”

The proposed stadium would have 16 sky boxes, a pro shop, a restaurant, and a 30,000-square-foot plaza opening onto Commercial Street. A team from the Atlantic League — which fields players that include a mix of former Major Leaguer players and college all-stars — would play 70 games in Malden, most of them on nights and weekends, according to a project outline.

The Malden High baseball team also would be invited to use the field for home games, while events such as graduations also may be held at the facility, Bok has said previously.

The project faces a lengthy list of state and local approvals, including the state Department of Public Utilities, which regulates National Grid, along with the City Council and Planning Board. “There will still be a great deal of public review of the project,” Wishoski said.

Bok is hoping to start preparing the site by next August, with construction likely to start in February 2014, he said.

Proximity to Malden Center Station on the MBTA Orange Line makes the site ideal for a ballpark, proponents have said.

“We are hoping everything moves along in a timely manner. In baseball, if you are two months late, you would miss a whole season,” he said.

Financing would likely be a mix of bank loans and private equity. In the last five years, Bok said, he has raised $3 million from private investors.

“They and their colleagues have indicated they would like to invest, once they know the project is really happening,” he said.

Bok said he has spoken to Eastern Bank, which has a large presence in Malden, about loans. “We have met with them recently, and they remain very interested and excited about the project,” Bok said.

Andrew Ravens, a spokesman for Eastern Bank, confirmed the bank’s interest.

“We’re actively lending money to fund projects in the communities we serve,” he wrote in an e-mail. “We’re always looking for more opportunities to invest, so naturally, we’re exploring this project and others.”

Bok also plans to sell naming rights to various areas in the park, such as the concourse, dugouts, and the stadium itself. National Grid would have first crack at naming rights. If the utility declines, the lease would prohibit NStar from being considered, Bok said.

“The document specifically states that it will not be NStar Stadium,” Bok said, smiling.

Kathy McCabe can be reached at kmccabe@globe.com.
Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMc­Cabe.

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