Red Sox chief executive John Harrington, meeting for the first time yesterday with neighborhood leaders to unveil a proposal to build a new Fenway Park, began his presentation by evoking his own community ties.
He recalled growing up in Jamaica Plain, taking trolleys, and then walking, to Red Sox games as a child. He mentioned that an uncle had worked in the Pierce Building near the park. And he described his own work on development issues as a planning official in Westwood, where he resides.
``Your concerns are our concerns,’’ Harrington told the 25 or so activists assembled before him in a closed meeting.
In the end, the pitch appeared only partly to have won over community leaders, most of whom expressed quiet admiration for the proposal’s aesthetic dimension but voiced fresh questions over how ordinary life in the area would be affected.
Other reactions, from residents, local business leaders, and fans, went from nostalgic melancholy that a legendary institution would be irreparably altered and fear that mom-and-pop shops would be crowded out, to hope that larger businesses would gain more clients and delight that Boston’s storied baseball team might finally have a modern facility.
``It’s an impressive plan,’’ said Celt Grant of the Audubon Neighborhood Association. ``It wasn’t as overpowering’’ as he thought it would be.
Even those opposed to a new ballpark agreed that the design for the facility was attractive.
``It’s a beautiful stadium they propose, no doubt,’’ said Kimberly Conrad, president of Save Fenway Park, a prominent community group that recently had an architect draw up a counter proposal to renovate, rather than rebuild, Fenway.
``But I’m not convinced that saving the diamond and the Green Monster are good,’’ Conrad said. ``It’s taking them out of their context and making them a tourist attraction.’’ The Red Sox say that renovation would be too expensive.
On a sunny, breezy day, Harrington met at Fenway offices with activists representing more than half of the dozen large community groups that have fought to make their ideas about Fenway proposals heard. Some leaders were piqued that the meeting had been convened with barely two day’s notice. One group, Fenway Action Coalition, which does not want a new facility built in the crowded area, complained that it was not even invited.
But those who attended were the first to see the team’s full plans, which were unveiled later in the day to the media. Red Sox management had hoped that by showing the full proposal first to community leaders, they could win support in a city where civic activism has been known to delay or even torpedo projects. Harrington yesterday promised to attend some community group hearings and said a public hearing on the proposal would be held May 26.
On some points, his strategy worked.
``He was a much more human figure in person, and most of us were impressed with the design,’’ said Lauren D. Platt, chairwoman of Neighborhood Alliance on Fenway Development, a coalition group.
``But they still have not addressed the traffic issues,’’ she said, in remarks echoed by Carl Koechlin of Fenway Community Development Corp.
The Red Sox propose to add 12,000 seats and build two parking garages for a total of 2,760 cars. But the new ballpark would reduce surface parking in the area, and there would be only a net increase of 300 parking spaces. The team hopes to encourage fans to ride the T or take other public transport to the facility. The team has not yet worked out a full scheme to cope with parking and traffic issues -- a point that activists say is crucial to making the stadium proposal work for the tight-knit community.
Not all residents appeared concerned about the prospect of more cars in the locale, where streets are narrow and parking is scarce.
Nate Enso, 18, an area resident, said he was excited about the stadium proposal. ``They’re doing the right thing and doing a good job of it. They’re making it like the old one so you’ll have some of the same feel,’’ he said. ``It’s good for the team.’’
Large businesses, including those in the Kenmore area, saw a potential boon. Mindy D’Arbeloff, a marketing executive at the Lyons Group, which represents several nightclubs on Lansdowne Street across from Fenway, called the proposal ``very clever’’ in its efforts to replicate the existing park and preserve its cultural heritage. Kathryn St. John, a Red Sox spokeswoman, said architects and designers ``have tried to reflect a lot of what we’ve heard from the community.’’
But one local pizza shop owner, who declined to be identified, said he was worried that the need for extra land for the new stadium might kick him off his property and require him to relocate to a less lucrative area.
Emmanuel Paine, a Red Sox fan who was in a neighborhood shop buying Sox memorabilia for his rap band, said, ``I love this old park. It’s got that small, cozy feeling.
``The green wall is the magic thing, though,’’ he said. ``You gotta bring the wall. If the wall goes (to the new stadium), it’s all good.’’