Suffolk University will spend about $500,000 to improve a public park in East Boston as part of a deal with the city that gives several of the school’s sports teams a dedicated home field.
The agreement covering East Boston Memorial Park is Suffolk’s first move to establish a presence outside its small downtown campus around Boston Common. The commuter school, founded in 1906, has never had a permanent athletics facility.
The city and Suffolk said the university’s teams would play during set times in the fall and spring and would not displace the high school and youth teams that currently use Memorial Park.
“It helps us a great deal to have an athletic facility, and if it winds up helping the community, all the better,” said John Nucci, a Suffolk vice president. “It’s rewarding for to us to see East Boston athletes and students realize the benefits of Boston’s colleges and universities for a change.”
Under a 10-year agreement with Boston’s Parks and Recreation Department, Suffolk is installing new electronic scoreboards, batting cages, storage lockers, fencing, and more seating in a stadium at the park. That work should be completed by late August.
Suffolk will pay the city $100,000 annually to maintain the park and staff the bathrooms and concession stand at the stadium. Additionally, Suffolk will buy new training equipment for East Boston High School and award two scholarships each year to seniors.
Nucci said Suffolk wanted a sports facility to help attract prospective students and to make life easier for its teams.
Until now, the university’s NCAA Division III baseball, soccer, and softball teams have played wherever they could find time and space, packing up their gear and driving in vans to a variety of fields around Boston. Now they will have their own home field just a few stops away on the Blue Line.
Suffolk, which had about 5,100 full-time undergraduate students last fall, looked to East Boston because its own neighborhood around Beacon Hill is densely developed and property there is exceptionally pricey. Nucci, a former city councilor who represented East Boston and still lives there, was in charge of the search for a venue.
“It’s not like [Suffolk is] coming in and taking over. We don’t want to privatize public space — that would have been a nonstarter,” said Ryan Woods, a spokesman for the Parks Department. “Suffolk is doing a lot of givebacks and really getting involved in the East Boston community and the high school. It goes way beyond the field.”
Because Suffolk is geographically penned in, the university may take a similarly public transit-oriented approach to future development projects, Nucci said. For example, it might consider building a new dorm near a subway station in a less expensive neighborhood. However, the school isn’t working on a specific proposal at the moment.
“There’s a difficulty in expanding in the downtown area, and as an urban institution, we’ve never had a traditional campus anyway,” Nucci said. “There may be other areas around us that are easily T-accessible and that we could look at in the future.”
East Boston residents seem receptive to the arrangement with Suffolk, saying the physical improvements are needed and that keeping the park busy and staffed more often will make it safer.
“We have a large spate of development going on at a really fast clip in East Boston, which makes the care and maintenance of open space absolutely vital,” said Margaret Farmer, a leader of the Jeffries Point Neighborhood Association. “The Suffolk deal provides a certain amount of security that these fields will be not be overgrown or covered in trash.”
However, Farmer said, her group planned to keep a “steady eye” on Suffolk’s use of Memorial Field to ensure that the school doesn’t start crowding out neighbors and other teams. And if conflict arises, she knows exactly whom to call.
“John Nucci has been a member of the community for long enough to know that, if we have problems, no one will be shy about telling him,” Farmer said.