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Boston officials agree on new park

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BOSTON — Key state legislators, the governor, the mayor and Boston Red Sox officials have reached a tentative agreement for a new ballpark. Only a public hearing, City Council action and a vote in the state Legislature stand in the way.

After three hours in the latest of a series of talks among state and city politicians and the team, officials emerged Tuesday with details of a financing plan.

A public hearing on the agreement is likely to be held Friday. And the Legislature is planning to convene a formal session Saturday to act on the deal before Monday's adjournment of this year's session.

Assuming a bill is approved by the House and Senate and signed into law by Cellucci, the project still faces the hurdle of the Boston City Council. Two-thirds of the 13-member council is needed to approve any land taking.

Under terms of the tentative agreement, the city would contribute $140 million for land acquisition and site preparation, as well as $72 million for a parking garage, while the state would kick in $100 million on infrastructure costs, such as road and subway improvements. The city and team would share revenues from the garage.

The team would spend $352 million for construction of a new 44,000-seat ballpark, which is to be next to the current 88-year-old park — the oldest and smallest in the country.

The deal would also hold the team responsible for a possible additional cost of $28 million that may be needed for soil removal on the site of a new ballpark. The team will have to find a way to pay for the soil removal without the help of either state or city government.

In order to raise $12 million annually to pay off bonds to be taken out by the city for its portion of the cost, a $5 parking surcharge would be levied on spaces around the park on game days. Other sources of revenue include a 5 percent surcharge on general admission tickets and a 15 percent surcharge on luxury box tickets.

The terms of the deal — particularly the ticket surcharges and the need to look for private financing — left Red Sox chief executive officer John Harrington concerned.

"It may be impossible to overcome," Harrington said of the financing hurdles. Nevertheless, he remained optimistic, saying, "I hope we will be able to open a new ballpark in 2003 or 2004."

Harrington also called the ticket surcharges "a burden on fans."

Former Red Sox general manager Lou Gorman, now a consultant, said, "I'm thrilled and delighted. They need it. The economics of the game are that you have to have it, or you can't survive."

The question of whether the state should pick up the $28 million cost of soil removal as part of the infrastructure expenses proved the toughest part of the negotiations.

House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran said soil removal is not traditional public infrastructure, such as road and subway improvements, and therefore shouldn't be paid for with government money. He said it is unclear whether the team will be able to find the private financing to cover the expense.

"Before there is a state of unbridled euphoria ... the Red Sox are going to have to go to lending institutions to see if, in fact, their plan passes muster," he said.

Gov. Paul Cellucci, who wanted the state to pay for the soil removal, said there was "a bit of yelling" about the issue during an earlier meeting Tuesday.

"We are hopeful and optimistic that in a few days the state Legislature will approve this agreement," Cellucci said.

Stadium opponents criticized the deal, calling it the largest taxpayer-financed stadium in the history in the country. They also criticized lawmakers for trying to cram the deal through in the final days of the legislative session.

"There is no way you can have a legitimate public process in the time that's left," said Rob Sargent of the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group. "It's a recipe for disaster."

Despite the team's cautionary tone, Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham called it "a win mostly for the people of Massachusetts. It's a win for the fans of the Red Sox."

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino said, "We have come a long way in this deal. It is a deal that works for the city."

As word reached Fenway Park, where the Red Sox were playing host to the Minnesota Twins, fans seemed to embrace hopes for a new ballpark — no matter the cost.

Despite already having the highest average ticket price in baseball, the Red Sox had their 37th sellout of the year Tuesday night and their 26th in a row. Ticket prices this season range from $14 for the upper bleachers to $45 for field box seats.

With 33,871 seats, Fenway Park is the smallest ballpark in the major leagues. It also is the oldest, having opened on April 20, 1912.

The team says they need to be able to fit in more fans to afford today's high-priced players. And fans seemed to agree with that assessment.

"To get a new ballpark, I don't have a problem with that," said Scott Masse of North Andover. "I've seen all the modern facilities. We need something like that here."

Said Judy Cohen of Framingham, "I think it's time that Boston has a new park. It's too small."