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Judge lets lawsuit on Red Sox’ Yawkey Way deal proceed

Criticizes ‘blight’ designation, lack of bids as team got rights to street

Fans congregated on Yawkey Way, home to concession stands since a 2013 deal with the city granted the Red Sox rights to the space.
Fans congregated on Yawkey Way, home to concession stands since a 2013 deal with the city granted the Red Sox rights to the space.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/File/Globe Staff

A Suffolk County judge is raising questions about a deal the city struck with the Boston Red Sox in 2013 that lets the team fence off much of Yawkey Way for concessions and other activities during home games.

In a ruling on a suit brought by an Everett businessman, Superior Court Judge Mary K. Ames criticized the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s decision to declare that part of Yawkey Way blighted, a key step that allowed the city to skirt open-bidding rules and strike a direct deal with the Red Sox.

“No rational review of the facts,” Ames wrote in a footnote to her ruling, would suggest that Yawkey Way was blighted. “Rather than deterioration, there has been constant development and building of new residences and successful businesses during the past 13 years,” she said.

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The judge’s remarks came in a June 30 ruling in which she rejected the BRA’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit by Joseph P. Marchese Jr., an attorney and onetime restaurant owner from Everett who wanted to bid for the rights to Yawkey Way. Instead, the BRA in September 2013 granted the Red Sox perpetual rights to close off much of the street on game days and sell food and souvenirs, in exchange for $7.3 million.

The city deal was sharply criticized at the time by fiscal watchdogs who said it sidestepped public review and open-bidding processes. After declaring it blighted, the BRA took a portion of Yawkey Way in order to license the rights to the public street to the Red Sox.

But Ames said in her ruling that the Yawkey Way property should have been put out to public bid. “Because the Yawkey Easement cannot be categorized as blighted, the BRA’s taking of it is not exempted” from state public-bidding laws, the judge wrote.

The Red Sox are not named in the suit, and a spokesman for the team had no comment Thursday. (Red Sox principal owner John Henry also owns The Boston Globe.)

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A spokesman for the BRA said the authority would not discuss pending litigation.

Neither Marchese nor his lawyer returned calls seeking comment late Thursday.

Marchese sued the BRA soon after the deal was finalized, saying it had cheated him out of a chance to bid. The BRA asked Ames to throw the case out, saying Marchese had no grounds to sue.

In rejecting the BRA’s request, Ames said the authority “deprived Marchese, and any other potential bidder, the opportunity to bid” on rights to Yawkey Way. The ruling clears the case to move toward a trial, which would determine if the BRA acted legally.

Fans lined up at the concession stands outside Fenway Park on Yawkey Way. The Red Sox bought the rights to the area after the BRA declared the street blighted, allowing the city to license it to the team without bidding.
Fans lined up at the concession stands outside Fenway Park on Yawkey Way. The Red Sox bought the rights to the area after the BRA declared the street blighted, allowing the city to license it to the team without bidding.Barry Chin/Globe Staff/File

Gregory Sullivan, the former inspector general of Massachusetts, warned the BRA as far back as 2012 that the blight declaration was risky. Now research director at the Pioneer Institute, Sullivan said Ames’s ruling was right on the money.

“To say that Fenway Park and Yawkey Way on game day is urban blight is like saying Disneyland is blighted on Fourth of July weekend,” Sullivan said. “I’d call this the worst abuse [of the blight law] I saw in my years in the IG’s office.”

The deal came together in the waning months of the Thomas Menino administration, and even one BRA board member complained that the vote to approve it was rushed through with little study. Both Mayor Martin J. Walsh and current BRA director Brian Golden have said they did not agree with how their predecessors conducted the deal.

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Still, the Walsh administration is defending the BRA against the suit and argued that Marchese had no standing to file it.

The current state inspector general, Glenn Cunha, reportedly launched a review of the arrangement nearly two years ago; a spokeswoman declined to comment Thursday.


Tim Logan can be reached at tim.logan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan.