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Soccer stadium belongs in Boston’s future

Salt pile storage is one of the current industrial uses of the land where the Krafts hope to build a soccer stadium.heather hopp-bruce/globe staff

If Boston were a city with a fluid approach to development, we would probably be in our third or fourth year of enjoying professional soccer in a modern, compact stadium. But that’s not how we roll here. Hence the Kraft family — operators of the New England Revolution professional soccer team — continues to wander around the city in search of a site for a stadium.

The Krafts, who also own the New England Patriots football team, are currently eyeing a strip of city-owned land along Frontage Road at the edge of the South End with access to Interstate 93. Civil discussions are reportedly underway between the Krafts and city officials to determine if the site is right for a soccer stadium. This couldn’t have happened a year ago. The late Mayor Thomas Menino viewed the Krafts as tone-deaf suburbanites, especially when it came to building stadiums in urban areas. And the Krafts were no fans of Menino, either.

But here’s the rub. While there is no animosity between Jonathan Kraft, president of the Revolution parent company, and Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, it is not immediately clear if there is anyone in the nascent Walsh administration with the experience to take the lead on such a complicated deal. Any effort to build a soccer stadium on Frontage Road could involve multiple landowners, anxious neighbors, and leery state environmental officials. Menino’s development staff had the skill to deliver such a deal. But they wouldn’t give the Krafts the time of day.

That’s why Boston lost an opportunity in 2007 to build a soccer stadium on a vacant parcel of land in Roxbury across from Boston Police headquarters. Menino nixed that effort just as he had an earlier one by Kraft to build a football stadium on the South Boston waterfront. The waterfront, at least, has flourished without a stadium. But the parcel along Tremont Street in Roxbury remains undeveloped.


Major League Soccer has been conducting an aggressive campaign to build new, 20,000-seat stadiums in urban areas where the sport could benefit from mass transit and enthusiastic young fans, including new immigrants. The Boston area is ready for a so-called “soccer-specific stadium,” such as the ones built recently in Kansas City and Houston. Currently, the Revolution experience gets swallowed up in the gigantic 69,000-seat Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. A more intimate venue would definitely pump up the fans and enhance the enjoyment of the game.


The Krafts face competition on Frontage Road. The city’s homeless men and women have first dibs, which is only fair given that they were cast aside recently when city engineers condemned a bridge leading to a 450-bed shelter on an island in Boston Harbor. Walsh favors a portion of the site for the construction of a temporary shelter during what could be a three- or four-year effort to replace the bridge. If Walsh wants to avoid a long-term headache, he should build a permanent shelter on Frontage Road.

Business leaders are also checking out adjacent land as the potential site for an Olympic Stadium should Boston be chosen to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. This is pretty speculative, however. As my colleague, letters editor Matthew Bernstein, likes to say, “We’ll jump off that bridge when we come to it.”

The Walsh administration hasn’t exactly gotten off to a blistering start. Here’s a chance for the mayor to step up his game: By helping the Krafts to site a professional soccer stadium, Walsh could show that his City Hall team has the experience, knowledge, and power to change Boston for the better. And with about 15 acres in play, according to administration estimates, there should be plenty of room along Frontage Road to accommodate both the shelter and the stadium.


Still, Walsh could get rolled if he isn’t careful. The culture of Major League Soccer is to seek public subsidies for the construction and operation of its soccer stadiums. That’s not the culture in Boston, however. And the Krafts — so far — have been silent on this important subject.

The Revs are competing for the conference championship. But Walsh would do well to check out the San Jose Earthquakes professional soccer team. The Earthquakes came in last, but stood out by building a new stadium solely with private financing. That’s the kind of team that all Bostonians could heartily support.


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Krafts exploring soccer stadium in Boston

Lawrence Harmon can be reached at harmon@globe.com.