A long-overdue renovation of White Stadium in Franklin Park is in the works that would reestablish the 10,000-seat stadium as a state-of-the-art centerpiece for Boston Public Schools student-athletes and a more inviting public facility in the city’s largest open space.
The proposed public/private project could bring an additional benefit as well: a home stadium for a new Boston franchise in the National Women’s Soccer League.
The City of Boston announced a request for proposals on Tuesday for a private entity to lease and fund the renovation of one half of the run-down but still heavily used stadium, with the city funding reconstruction of the other half, plus new training and fitness areas, physical therapy facilities, locker rooms, community space, and offices for the BPS Athletics Department.
Any private proposal would need to align with the vision Mayor Michelle Wu and the city have for a stadium upgrade that benefits Boston students and the surrounding Franklin Park community and stakeholders.
The “Boston Unity” group is a female-led group of investors formed last year after the NWSL announced expansion plans. Two teams, from the Bay Area in California and Salt Lake Utah City, have been approved to begin play next year, with Boston a viable contender for one of the remaining two slots. The request for proposals process is public and open to any private bidder. The Boston Unity group and the city have been in discussions for months, and there is a mutual attraction that makes the soccer group a logical potential partner for the city.
“That would be an incredible opportunity for Boston Public Schools and the opportunities for young people to see, up close, the city add another championship team and to see athletes at that level with women’s soccer taking off around the world,” Wu said in an interview.
Ensuring it has a viable stadium to play in is a crucial hurdle the “Boston Unity” group has to clear in order to get a nod from the NWSL.
“White Stadium is one of Boston’s most important community resources, and we’re excited by the prospect of having it serve as the home for Boston’s future NWSL club,” said Jennifer Epstein, controlling owner of the investment group behind Boston Unity.
Proposals for the project are due in late June.
BPS Superintendent Mary Skipper hailed the effect a remodeled stadium would have on students, saying in a statement that “this is a chance to reimagine White Stadium as a hub for BPS Athletics.”
There is a lot of room for improvement at the stadium.
Wedged into the northern tip of Franklin Park, the 78-year-old George White Schoolboy Stadium, built in 1945, is in rough shape, with its twin clamshell-shaped grandstands and grounds a study in building-code noncompliance, peeling paint, crumbling concrete, rusting innards, and its six-lane rubberized track pitted with holes.
The east grandstand can be used only for seating now since a long-ago fire rendered its concourse and interior space unusable.
Despite its condition, White Stadium is still heavily used throughout the spring, summer, and fall with track and field and cross-country events, soccer and football games, BPS graduations, and community events.
“White Stadium should be a jewel in the city and for many, many years it was a treasure for athletes across the state as a renowned legendary site for important games and sporting events,” said Wu. “It was built in 1945 and it’s still used today, but it’s been in serious disrepair for some time.”
The city proposal spells out a lengthy list of requirements for any winning private bid. The winner must agree to a 10-year lease from the city, at an annual rent of at least $400,000, with two 10-year contract extensions. The leaseholder would be responsible for renovating the west grandstand of the stadium.
Criteria for a winning proposal beyond prioritizing availability for BPS students and the Franklin Park community include: a transportation and parking plan that minimizes congestion in the surrounding densely populated area of Roxbury and Jamaica Plain; a set number of dates each year for the leaseholder to use the stadium, allowing the west grandstand to be used for BPS and city-sponsored events; a diversity, equity, and inclusion plan that includes design, construction, and ongoing operations; and an economic development plan that includes the goal of closing the racial wealth gap.
Hatim Jean-Louis is the head cross-country coach for BPS and is intimately familiar with the stadium and Franklin Park. Along with others from BPS, he learned about the request for proposals on a Monday Zoom call.
He sees only upside to what an upgrade of White Stadium would mean to Boston students and their parents.
“What it would do to the psyche and the morale of BPS kids is, it would send a charge. More [students] would be, ‘I want to be in it,’ ” said Jean-Louis. ”I believe more families will be up to keeping their kids in BPS, because maybe now they feel like, ‘Oh, I can send my kid to BC High and he or she would get the better facility, the better track,’ right?”
Epstein is the founder of Juno Equity, with Anna Palmer, a general partner at Flybridge Capital; Stephanie Connaughton, an angel investor, adviser, and mentor with early stage start-ups; and Ami Kuan Danoff, cofounder and CFO of the Women’s Foundation of Boston, as managing partners of “Boston Unity.” Boston Globe Media Partners CEO Linda Henry is an investor in the group.
The Boston Breakers played in the NWSL up until 2018.
Michael Silverman can be reached at email@example.com.