The Emperor Has No Clothes, part 5
From the moment John Harrington assumed control of the Red Sox in
1992, the club’s future in Fenway Park has never been far
from his mind. In fact, his concern was apparent as early as
1987, when he and then-partner Haywood Sullivan commissioned a
study to determine how long the old ballyard could last.
The consultants concluded that $9 million of repairs would keep
Fenway structurally sound at least through 2007. The repairs were
made. In 1993 Harrington assured the Globe that "Fenway
might be antiquated in a lot of ways, but it's not obsolete.
It performs the function on the field and it's still a
ballpark that's recognized and loved."
But the 1992 season made clear that structural soundness
wasn’t enough – Fenway also had to remain
economically viable. That year one divisional rival, the Toronto
Blue Jays won the World Series and attracted more than 4,000,000
fans to their futuristic SkyDome. Another, the Baltimore Orioles,
redefined state of the art ballpark design with Oriole Park at
Camden Yards, and a third, the Cleveland Indians, was already
constructing a similar facility. Each of these new parks brought
their teams millions of additional dollars with which to sign
Ironically, Camden Yards and the Indians’ Jacobs Field
heralded a change in stadium design toward smaller,
old-fashioned, asymmetrical parks like Fenway. The big
difference: the new parks added dozens of luxury boxes which
rented for upwards of $50,000/year, and contained acres of
concessions under the stands.
With this trend apparent, Harrington discussed his vision of a
new park with the Globe. "It should be a
ballpark," he said. "It should be an oldfashioned
ballpark, not a stadium. Not a dome. This city deserves a Camden
Yards. And at some point, the city will have one because
economically, it has to happen. How you do it, how you finance it
is an entirely separate issue, and the toughest issue of
The first stadium proposal to reach Harrington’s desk
looked nothing like Fenway. In 1993, with the Patriots again
threatening to leave, Governor Weld proposed a $700 million
megaplex, to house a football stadium and convention center.
Although the plan didn’t mention the Red Sox, Harrington
expressed some interest in adding a baseball-only park to the
Paul Barrett of the Boston Redevelopment Authority saw another
role for the megaplex.
"Everybody loves Fenway Park, and I think everybody would
love to see it stay there," Barrett said. "What could
happen is the Red Sox could go to an indoor dome facility for two
years and allow the charm of Fenway to be rebuilt on
This was the most sensible proposal yet. A key obstacle to the
renovation of Fenway was what to with the Sox during
construction. New England winters limited the amount of work
which could be done in the off-season, while the lack of an
adequate temporary home prevented the Sox from reconstructing the
park during the spring and summer. The Yankees had played two
seasons at Shea Stadium while their own park was being rebuilt;
perhaps the Red Sox could do something similar.
By early 1994, though, Harrington had concluded that Fenway could
not be preserved. He explained, "Fenway Park as we know it
is no longer economically feasible. We need 10,000 more seats.
It's as simple as that. And there is no way we can put 10,000
more seats in this ballpark. There are traffic and parking
problems already without adding 10,000 more seats and the traffic
problems that would come with them.
“When people ask about the future of Fenway Park, I say I
just don't think we can expand it. I don't think it would
be worth it to increase capacity and still end up with a 1912
ballpark. It wouldn't be worth it to knock the existing
facility down and rebuild it unless there were a substantial
change in the parking facilities and access.”
But even if the Sox couldn’t afford to stay in Fenway,
Harrington didn’t know how they could afford to leave.
State and local officials made clear that unlike Baltimore,
Boston wouldn’t give the local club a blank check for a new
ballpark. In fact, Boston wouldn’t pay anything for a new
park, only for related costs like land and roads. Harrington had
to come up with the money.
In 1995 the Sox proposed a $150 million ballpark on the Fort
Point channel in South Boston, conditioned on the city providing
free land. The city declined. The Sox rejected a suggestion that
they swap the land under Fenway Park for the land the new park
would occupy, saying they needed the proceeds from the sale of
Fenway to fund the new field.
The next spring Harrington hinted that the quest for an
appropriate, affordable site might drive the Sox to the suburbs.
"Our first preference would be downtown Boston. Our second
would be somewhere else in the city. But if it is the best thing
to do, we will go to the suburbs. We are keeping all of our
To Harrington, Fenway had become a white elephant which could no
longer generate the revenues needed to field a contender.
"We have to compete with Cleveland, we have to compete with
the Orioles. They have a big break compared to us with their new
stadiums that can generate a lot more income than we do. "
Ultimately, he concluded, “it will not be feasible to be
playing in Fenway Park 10 years from now.”
At least not Fenway Park as now configured – but in 1997
the Sox floated a tantalizing proposal to expand Fenway beyond
its current site. By demolishing the vacant former Girls Latin
school, closing a couple of streets and possibly even extending
the park over the Mass Pike, the Sox might be able to add the
seats and amenities they needed over the course of several
off-seasons, without disrupting play.
Mayor Menino quickly embraced this option, but Harrington
ultimately concluded it would cost too much. He explained,
“Anyone who has ever tried to rebuild or renovate a home
knows it's a lot less expensive, substantially less
expensive, to build a new house than to renovate it or refurbish
But Harrington had already made a major mistake. He didn’t
realize that by writing Fenway’s obituary without a firm
plan for replacing it, he was giving Fenway’s supporters
all the time they would need to organize opposition to a
Those supporters wasted little time. On January 21, 1998, a
grassroots coalition of volunteers formed Save Fenway Park!
(SVP). SVP’s devoted membership included preservationists
and architects -- men and women who not only offered informed
criticism of Harrington’s plans, but developed their own
credible alternative for keeping the Sox in a remodeled
The terms of the stadium debate had been changed forever. Before
the Sox could even reveal their plans for New Fenway, SVP was
already touting architect Charles Hagenah’s proposal to
renovate Old Fenway. Local residents, elected officials, and
taxpayers around Massachusetts were listening.
On May 15, Harrington unveiled his model of New Fenway. Pleasing
to the eye if not the wallet. New Fenway looked a lot like Old
Fenway, and would be built a stone’s throw away. But New
Fenway’s price tag would be at least $545,000,000,
including $350 million for the park, $50 million for the land,
$80 million for two parking garages and $50 million for traffic
and other infrastructure improvements. The Sox offered to finance
the stadium if the state and city contributed the remaining $195
SVP responded less than two weeks later, announcing that its plan
would cost $125 million less. The Sox would save $60 million in
construction costs; the taxpayers would save another $65 million.
Althouth the Sox and their architects dismissed the SVP design as
inadequate and unrealistic, House Speaker Thomas Finneran emerged
from an SVP briefing to say he was “encouraged” that
Fenway could be renovated.
The battle for Fenway’s future is far from over. John
Harrington can’t raise the private money needed to build
New Fenway until all the public money is in place, but he
won’t get the public money until the legislature is
convinced that SVP’s cheaper alternative won’t work.
Copyright © 1999 Doug Pappas. All rights
Originally published in the August 1999 issue of Boston
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