The Boston Red Sox announced plans for a new Fenway Park yesterday, a project budgeted at $545 million that mimics so many characteristic details of the beloved current stadium that the team even plans to dig up some of the old turf and play on it in the new facility.
The proposed stadium, where play could begin in 2003, would be built adjacent to the existing park and would retain the name. While they were short on financial details yesterday, including precise terms for the required government support, team officials expressed optimism that they can pay for the stadium without selling naming rights.
``Our goal continues to be to find the best way to preserve the Red Sox experience for our fans and our community while continuing to field a competitive team,’’ said John Harrington, the team’s chief executive officer.
``No one associated with the Boston Red Sox comes to a decision that we need a new ballpark without some very strong mixed emotions,’’ said Harrington, who struggled to control his emotions during the unveiling of plans for a new park at a gathering near first base in the old stadium. ``Fenway is special and I used to come here with my father, and I know what the Red Sox can mean to the people of New England, and I know that Fenway Park is a part of that.’’
The new Fenway Park would preserve much of the old as a park and entryway. It also would replicate many of the old-fashioned characteristics of the existing Fenway, including a manual scoreboard, bullpens in front of the rightfield stands, and nearly identical outfield dimensions.
Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette said it will still be possible in the proposed stadium to hit a home run over the left field wall and out of the park.
Earl Santee, a partner at HOK Sport, the Kansas City-based architect that has designed many other major league stadiums including Camden Yards in Baltimore and Jacobs Field in Cleveland, said the width of seats will increase, and so will leg room. The plan, which includes three decks of seating, some five feet closer to the field than at the current Fenway, also calls for wider aisles.
``We’re proposing a new, classic, open-air ballpark that preserves the best parts of Fenway: the wall, the intimacy with the fans, the field dimensions including the centerfield triangle, and the bullpens,’’ Harrington said.
``Yet, this ballpark will provide the fans with a better experience, no obstructed views, comfortable seats, easier access and egress, and even a decent number of rest rooms for women and families -- we’re a little more enlightened now than we were in 1912 in that regard.’’
The Red Sox unveiled the plan after first showing it to community groups, including Save Fenway Park, the group leading the effort to renovate the current ballpark. The group, which offered a detailed renovation plan last week, said the Red Sox have never fully explained why the old park can not be refurbished. At the meeting yesterday, Harrington publicly pledged to meet with the group’s architect and review the proposal.
Harrington provided a skeletal summary of the cost of the team’s project, including about $350 million for design and construction; $65 million for acquiring land; $80 million for two parking structures; and $50 million for traffic and other infrastructure improvements.
``So you can see that there are some extraordinary costs associated with building a ballpark within this site and in an urban environment,’’ Harrington said. ``We believe that these are all items that are very, very important and integral to the ballpark.’’
Harrington stressed the team has not established any figure for the funding it will be seeking from state or city officials, since the design is not finalized and it’s not clear exactly how much it will cost to acquire, clean and prepare the site.
But it appears the state will have to contribute at least $50 million, and possibly $130 million, if the parking garages are included. And, the city would likely be required to bear the cost of seizing some of the land for the new ballpark.
Unlike the planning for a stadium for the New England Patriots, the new Fenway Park will require significant cooperation from both the city and the state.
``Our plan of finance is not yet complete and I think that’s understandable because of the complex nature of the project,’’ Harrington said. ``But we expect to have a very sincere and prolonged dialogue with the community and the city and state people, and those dialogues will have cost implications on the project itself.
``Now, you’re all wondering whether we’ve listened to what our government leaders have said, and, yes, we have listened very carefully, and we have watched what they have done, and I can tell you we are very confident that in working with our government leaders that we will fashion an approach that is consistent with the beliefs and goals of our public officials, and that it will get this project done.’’
Harrington added that the team will attempt to finance as much of this project as possible through private sources.
Although observers said they had some difficulty commenting on a financial plan that has not been fully revealed, some said the broad outlines appeared to make sense.
``If you want to build a park in an urban environment today these numbers do not appear to be outrageous,’’ said David D’Alessandro, president and chief operating officer of the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co., a sponsor of the Red Sox. ``You’re really talking about land acquisition in the middle of one of the biggest economic booms in our nation’s history.’’
The Red Sox did not reveal the price of the proposed 100 luxury suites or the 5,500 club seats, which are expected to leverage financing for the project and provide a substantial increase in the team’s value and ability to pay for top free-agent prospects. But they did say that purchasers of the so-called premium seats will be asked for deposits, in advance of the actual purchases, to help finance construction.
And while many professional sports franchises are now owned by billionaires or huge corporations with far more resources to undertake a major construction project, the Red Sox are owned by the Jean Yawkey Trust, which is essentially a charity.
``If they are talking in the $350 million range for the construction, I think they can do that,’’ said one Boston business executive who requested anonymity. ``But I don’t think they can pay for much more, or expect the state to come up with much more than $100 million or so.’’
To finance the project, the team does not expect to take on any new individual investors at this point.
``We’ll partner up with the city, state, and whoever wants to be involved in those projects,’’ Harrington said, adding that Boston University and Partner’s Partners Health Care may be interested in renting garage space.
With additional revenues generated by advanced sales of more than 100 luxury boxes, increased concessions, retail sales, corporate sponsorships, and parking fees, Harrington said the team expects to invest about $100 million in the project up front.
``We expect to have a significant cash flow -- both from incremental ballpark revenue generated and the new parking revenue,’’ he said. ``That is really going to drive this project to its success.’’