Red Sox executives confirmed yesterday that they plan to make Fenway Park their permanent home and stated bluntly that their decision comes with “no strings attached,” though they would like to see parking and public transit improvements in the neighborhood.
Team officials yesterday ruled out public financing for improvements inside the ballpark as they publicly declared their intent to stay in their 93-year-old home. They said they may look to the state to expand the Yawkey Station commuter rail stop. The three top executives owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner, and chief executive Larry Lucchino said they mentioned the issue during a meeting with Governor Mitt Romney this week.
“We’re establishing ourselves as long-term residents, and we share with other residents a desire for improvements to this area,” Lucchino said. “You will not find a government dollar in Fenway Park or for the exclusive benefit of the Red Sox. There has been no such ask.”
Over the long term, Sox executives said, the team plans to maintain the intimate feel of Fenway, the oldest and smallest ballpark in the league. The owners said they will not expand Fenway’s capacity above 40,000, and that they do not want to add an upper deck. The park currently has about 36,300 seats, and it will expand to about 38,800 next year.
But as the team looks for revenue, ticket prices are likely to keep increasing, at least incrementally. Though Sox tickets are already among the most expensive in baseball, prices rose in each of the last two years, with the average being more than $40. Lucchino said the Sox do not expect “abnormally large” increases in the future because of the decision to stay in Fenway but said the team may make some smaller changes.
He also acknowledged there is a limit to how high prices can go, and he said the team has sought corporate sponsorships and other forms of revenue to lessen the burden on fans. In the last several years, the Red Sox have added hundreds of high-priced seats, and they have plans to renovate and remove the glass facade from the .406 Club, which is expected to add more premium seats next year.
The Red Sox yesterday unveiled a variety of renovations for the 2005 season, including a new playing surface to reduce rain delays, an expansion of the grandstand concourse area on the first base side of the ballpark, and a new sports restaurant called Game On! operated by nightclub entrepreneur Patrick Lyons.
The changes, which come as the Sox are adding trees, streetlights, and wider sidewalks on Lansdowne Street behind the left-field wall, are part of the team’s efforts to weave the ballpark into the fabric of the city year round, said Janet Marie Smith, the Sox’s senior vice president of planning and development. Several of the restaurants and clubs along on Lansdowne Street plan to add outdoor patio seating.
“A ballpark’s role in a city is to contribute to urban life,” Smith said. “Our desire is to animate the streets, so there is more going on than just what we present at game time.”
The Sox are in negotiations to purchase three buildings in the neighborhood the Town Taxi garage on Ipswich Street and the McDonald’s restaurant and WBCN radio studios, both on Boylston Street which would give the team more room to expand Fenway. Smith described the moves yesterday in part as a defensive gesture to gain more control over the area around the park. The team also is looking to move its offices out of Fenway Park to free up more space.
Inside the ballpark, the Sox are making other changes. They excavated space behind the dugout for a Red Sox batting tunnel, batting cage, and video room. The team previously had shared a batting cage with the visiting team, located in center field. In the players’ clubhouse, the Sox added a second floor, which will hold a weight room, interview room and lounge. The expanded first-base concourse will be located above the new clubhouse.
“From a player perspective, we were looking to add to what is the smallest clubhouse in the major league,” Smith said.
Fans will notice an expanded third-base concourse, which will include televisions, stand-up tables, and a food court with new menu items, such as fried chicken. On the outside of the park, the Sox are restoring the brickwork to the design of the early 1900s. Along Van Ness Street, near the statue of Ted Williams, the team is mounting plaques of players whose numbers have been retired.
The small size of the Fenway has been an obstacle for the Red Sox to compete financially in the league. Under the previous ownership, the Sox had argued that they would need a new, larger ballpark in order to pay for escalating player salaries and other expenses.
But when Henry and his group of limited partners bought the team in 2002, they tried to look at ways to save Fenway first.
In the process, the new ownership group which includes The New York Times Co., parent of The Boston Globe, adopted a number of proposals from preservation groups in the neighborhood, which had been fighting against the previous ballpark plans.
Over the last three years, the Red Sox had invested tens of millions of dollars into the ballpark, but until today had never committed to staying long term.
“This is a historic day for baseball, and a historic day for Boston,” Henry said. “Today is a great victory for all of us who love this park.”