The state and TD Garden cut a deal, and promptly forgot all about it
I have to love the passion and curiosity of the teenaged detectives of the Hyde Square Task Force in Jamaica Plain.
They are the young people who recently discovered that the state and the owners of the TD Garden have a longstanding, legally binding agreement to raise money for the city’s recreational facilities. They revealed a tale of State House intrigue, now playing out in a city neighborhood.
In the early 1990s, the Legislature was trying to reach agreement on a deal to replace historic but decrepit Boston Garden with a new arena. Pretty much everyone agreed that the old parquet floor had seen its best days. But it was a $160 million bill, and that created plenty of opportunities for legislators to negotiate.
One lawmaker who did not believe in passing up opportunities was the late Kevin Fitzgerald, the charming and persuasive representative whose district included Jamaica Plain. When I say that Fitzy was a master at grabbing a piece of the action, I mean that in the most flattering sense possible. His constituents had needs, and he had an idea.
At his behest, the owners of the Garden agreed to hold three fund-raisers a year, with the proceeds going to the Metropolitan District Commission, which managed the state’s recreational facilities. The commitment became state law.
And promptly forgotten. Fund-raisers held between 1993 and 2017: Zero.
The whole arrangement went unenforced — and, apparently overlooked — until the Hyde Square Task Force, which is working to build a new ice skating rink/recreational facility in Jamaica Plain, received a tip that the Garden had once agreed to hold fund-raisers for state-owned recreational facilities.
A driven group of young people tracked down the law, read it very carefully, and concluded, correctly, that its provisions have never been enforced, a story the Globe published Friday. They believe, also correctly, that the Garden should somehow make good on this.
Before we get to what the Garden people should do, there is a big unanswered question: How did three fund-raisers a year somehow become none? How does a law fall through the cracks?
I think it may sound more mysterious than it really was. Not long after the Garden deal, Fitzgerald left office in a bizarre scandal, leaving no one to push for its enforcement. Clearly, the state was never committed to the arrangement. Garden management was content to wait for someone to ask, “What night can we hold our fund-raiser?” When those calls never came, they had one thing less to do.
So it all died.
Current officials at Delaware North, the corporation that owns the Garden, say they simply never knew about the deal, not having been in place when it was negotiated. I believe them. The MDC, likewise, was transformed into the Department of Conservation and Recreation. There’s no indication that the state, under either entity, ever sought to hold any fund-raisers — which would be consistent with the legendary incompetence of the old MDC. Its abolition was a great moment for state government. Though I digress.
Anyway, the real question is what to do now.
The Hyde Square youth sought to meet with TD Garden president Amy Latimer, who wasn’t in the building when they arrived at her office unexpectedly. I hope Latimer meets with them — they’ve earned that much.
But, of course, that isn’t enough.
As I mentioned, the kids stumbled on this discovery while advocating for the construction of a skating and recreational facility in their neighborhood, a $21.5 million project. A neighborhood nonprofit, Urban Edge, has worked mightily for years to raise the money for the project. Helped by nearly $6 million from the state, they are $5 million short of what they need to break ground.
That is a ton of money for a neighborhood group — but maybe not for a conglomerate that operates stadiums around the world. This story deserves a happy ending.
Delaware North can make it happen.