Jeremy Jacobs should live up to the language of the 1993 law that gave him the go-ahead to build a new Boston Garden — and Governor Charlie Baker should work harder at holding him to it.
After ignoring the law for 24 years, the $1.65 million Jacobs is now agreeing to pay falls short of what should be reasonably expected from him, given the millions he reaps as owner of the Garden and the Boston Bruins. After all those years, his commitment going forward is still unclear, and the state should nail it down sooner rather than later.
It took a long time to get to yes on the law that paved the way for development of the new arena, now known as TD Garden. Larry Moulter, the Garden executive who led the charge, famously said the process showcased Boston’s three favorite pastimes: “politics, sports, and revenge.” While political grudges and power plays did undermine the effort, legitimate questions were also raised about the cost to taxpayers.
But in the end, the state agreed to turn over air rights and easements to Delaware North, the company owned by Jacobs, so he could build a new Garden. With help from powerful politicians like then-Governor William F. Weld, Jacobs prevailed — with this promise: In exchange for the property rights and easements, he would “administer, produce, promote and sponsor no less than three charitable events per year,” with proceeds paid to the state. Those proceeds were to be used for “the construction, renovation, modernization and rehabilitation of facilities and land” overseen by what was then known as the Metropolitan District Commission, now the Department of Conservation and Recreation.
But as an enterprising group of young people from the Hyde Square Task Force discovered, Jacobs paid zero dollars to the state, and officials failed to hold him to his promise. Calculating late fees, penalties, fines and interests, the teens calculate the obligation at $13.8 million. They want to put the money toward a community athletic facility in Jackson Square. But state officials, who have agreed to kick in an additional $1 million to put toward the Jackson Square facility, settled for a lot less.
It’s true that the law doesn’t specify an exact amount of dollars owed. But the spirit is clear. Given his years of noncompliance, why are state officials so solicitous of Jacobs? And why are they so patronizing toward the young people representing the Hyde Square Task Force? It has taken media attention to get the adults in state government to focus on engaged teens doing what elders say they should be doing — showing interest in the world around them and engaging in the political process.
The teens’ work should provide an uplifting lesson that civic engagement pays off, and that the state can be trusted to enforce laws even on wealthy businessmen. If Jacobs doesn’t follow the law, and Baker doesn’t hold him to it, though, it’ll teach a different lesson entirely.