At The Ballyard ... with Steve Weissman

Friday, October 28, 2005

Red Sox Neighborhood Deals: Clear Skies, Sure, But Not Really For Us

In Washington, DC, no building can rise higher than the top of the Capitol dome. For years in Philadelphia, no building could stand taller than Billy Penn’s hat on the statue atop City Hall. And now in Boston, the Red Sox are committing considerable sums to ensure no building looms over Fenway Park.

Published reports today say that the Sox will be part of a development group that plans to replace the nearby Howard Johnson’s motor lodge with condominiums and a hotel that is twice as big. The tallest part of the new building, however, is said to be on the side facing away from the ballpark, keeping the sightlines from within as relatively unencumbered as they are today.

This announcement follows hard on the news that the Red Sox apparently will support the construction of – and perhaps even join the partnership to develop – two towers of condominiums in Kenmore Square as long as those towers are moved slightly more west of the park than originally planned. Clearly, the team is serious about maintaining what it calls “the Fenway experience,” and that’s a good thing. But let us be serious as well: is this really why it is committing hundreds of millions of dollars to the neighborhood? Or is it merely capitalizing on the juicy real estate opportunities as they come along?

My vote is the latter, and I can’t argue with the logic and savvy of doing so. The Sox ownership already holds property in the area (starting with the park itself, but now also a taxi garage, a McDonald’s restaurant, and a radio station studio), so why shouldn’t it seek to increase its neighborhood stake? Plus, the income it will earn from such investments won’t count against the luxury tax baseball levies for high-revenue teams, so the moves should benefit the Sox’s on-field competitive standing as well. Shouldn’t it?

Let’s face it: you and I would do exactly what the Red Sox are doing if only we had the scratch to do so. But it bugs me that such transactions are being couched in terms of improving the fans’ enjoyment. Yes, I thought it was great when the back wall of the ballpark was taken down, and we suddenly could see the surrounding buildings and feel like part of the community. But I’d really prefer not to be blamed for the enormous expenditures soon to come and for the creeping Soxification of the neighborhood – no matter how clear the skies overhead remain.

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