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Prospective owners offer ideas
By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com
Watching a game at Pac Bell Park this spring, a Bostonian expressed his admiration for the stadium, both for its consumer genius and the fact that it is San Francisco.
"Looking back 3,000 miles," the Boston native replied, "what is more Boston than Fenway Park? Is there any more recognizable landmark?"
The Bostonian offered the USS Constitution and the Bunker Hill Monument.
"Tourists who come to San Francisco want to see the waterfront," said the San Franciscan. "Boston's waterfront is nice, but it's not recognizable. Tourists want to see Fenway Park."
That is what Les Otten and Tom Werner believe, as well.
"I sat in Fenway this past week and heard people talking about how this was here before World War I," says Otten, the skiing and entertainment magnate and Red Sox fan who now lives in Maine. "New England is an area steeped in history and tradition, and Fenway Park is one of those traditions. Where else would the Citgo sign be a legally defined historic monument? I don't think anyone wants a new, fake Wall. I believed that there had to be a way to preserve and renovate the old Fenway while building a new Fenway, and Tom and I think we've found it."
Otten was a born New Yorker who has become an invested member of Red Sox Nation. Werner, the television producer ("Third Rock from the Sun," etc.) and former owner of the San Diego Padres, did a documentary on Fenway when he was a Harvard undergraduate. They are one of the bidders to purchase the Red Sox, and their plan to restore and renovate Fenway Park is one of the elements in their bid.
"We want to make one thing clear -- we are not saying what John Harrington tried to do with his plan was wrong, because his heart has always been in the best interest of the fans as well as the Yawkey Trust," says Otten. "He has been a great help to us putting our plan together, and only wants what's right."
The ballpark is a huge issue for any of the groups trying to get the Red Sox, because while old Fenway can be kept up, its revenue streams and upkeep will soon put the Red Sox in the middle/lower middle class of major-league stadia. The group headed by Bostonians Joe O'Donnell and Steve Karp figures to try to tie the development of a new stadium somewhere in South Boston into a real estate development deal that could involve a number of concepts, including a swap of Massport Land for some part of Suffolk Downs. With the local political and business ties of O'Donnell and Karp, and the Washington pull of partner Craig Stapleton -- a cousin and business associate of President George W. Bush -- there is a growing sentiment that they could get a stadium in that area where Mayor Thomas Menino steered Harrington away from years ago.
Otten and Werner, who are very close to commissioner Bud Selig, cite a number of advantages to their plan. First, the Fenway site solves some political problems with the City Council and State Legislature, as well as Fenway area activists. Second, it would require virtually no land taking by the city, which they claim would allow the city to take the allotted $100 million in the Harrington plan and use it to develop the Fenway area.
Second, while a waterfront stadium could eventually be a boom, the current economic climate and the political maze might require three to five years to get the construction finished. The way Otten and Werner look at it is that while their $300 million renovation might be more expensive than the $250 million expected to be needed to build a new park once the land is bought and cleared, anyone building a new park would need two to four years carrying the costs of two parks. With their plan, however, as soon as they begin their work -- next summer if they get the team -- they believe they will keep most existing revenue streams running. They believe that by the time the construction is completed in 2005, they will have increased stadium revenues more than $100 million; understand that currently because of the lack of space underneath the park, the Red Sox are 30th in per capita concessions spending, less than 50 percent of the mean average.
In the past, Harrington and Save Fenway advocates tried to renovate Fenway from a park built by the Taylor Family for folks born in the 19th century so it can accommodate 21st century needs. Nothing really worked, until Otten and Werner came upon Boston architects Ben Wood and Carlos Zapata. They are currently working on the restoration and renovation of Soldier Field in Chicago, and have done a great deal of business working on major projects with minimal space in Asia.
"The notion that one has to have 17 acres for a stadium is not true," says Wood. "How many acres is Safeco Field in Seattle, excluding the space needed when the roof retracts? A little more than nine. So what we've done is take what the Red Sox own, which includes the lot across the street at the corner of Yawkey Way and Brookline Avenue (adjacent to the landmark Boston Beer Works) and end up with a 43,000-seat stadium with more than one million square feet of building (compared to the current 450,000 square feet) and come up with something we believe combines the old Fenway with new technology and comforts."
And, unlike one of the creative plans submitted by Save Fenway people, there is no need for the team to play anywhere but Fenway during the 36-month construction period.
When it is done, these are the comparisons for the design presented by Wood and Zapata:
A major element of the Wood and Zapata proposal is that the upper deck will be completely independent of the existing bowl. Using the technology of columns and foundations that will be driven down the 60 feet into bedrock beneath The Fens, the upper deck will be completely independent and put no pressure on the existing structure. That would include separate access. What is now the lot at Yawkey Way and Brookline Avenue would be made into a multi-storied annex building with garage for the players and employees that would house new training facilities, concessions, club offices and whatever is needed.
"If you take out all the space that's used to store concessions and related necessities," says Otten, "you've created a huge amount of space for people to walk, for concessions stands and new clubhouses. This is a fan-driven plan, because it's a consumer industry. But we also have to make this a place where players want to play, and we have to upgrade facilities. Eight months from the time we start, there will be a completely new state-of-the-art home clubhouse. The difference is that it will be moved to the third-base side, and we will move the home dugout to third base. That serves a dual purpose. Remember, the curse of Babe Ruth is in the first-base dugout, and the next time the Yankees come to town, let them deal with the curse."
If the Werner-Otten Group were to get the team and they could begin work next summer, the first construction would begin with the demolition of what now houses the Red Sox offices, NESN, a bowling alley and other offices. They have already contacted neighborhood landlords about renting space until the new annex is completed.
"We're first going to deal with the player issues, then the luxury box issues and then the rest of the park," says Otten.
So while next season was ongoing, the current offices would go down -- theoretically without impacting traffic -- as they prepare to rebuild the clubhouse, begin building the new annex and erecting a seven- or eight-story vertical suite building in left field where the current offices and last 12 left-field suites now stand.
By the time they opened the 2003 season, they hope to have those modern 48 suites in place, and they would be used for business meetings at all times of the year, fully catered and serviced. In that preceding offseason, all the new foundations would be built.
During the next season, all the columns would be built and put in place, and they would maintain the current 600 Club and 31 existing suites.
During the next offseason, the plan is to construct a temporary press box atop the grandstand behind home plate, the Red Sox offices and all concessions and player facilities would move into the annex and while they tear down the entire level structures -- roof bowl, suites, press box, 600 Club, etc. -- they would construct the superstructure shell for the new upper deck.
That would necessitate playing the 2004 season with only 29,000 seats and some sort of temporary roof, but Otten says that all this is written into their five-year plan and hence would not be a serious hit. By the 2005 season, the entire upper deck, except right field, would be completed, along with new suites, press box and club boxes. By then, they expect to have 70 suites, 2,400 club seats and 4,300 upper deck seats, and by the next season have the completed 98 suites, 5,300 clubs and 7,600 upper deck seats.
"What we have when we're finished is all the nuances and oddities of Fenway, only modernized and cleaned and more accessible and comfortable, along with the modern amenities of a new stadium with the upper deck that overlooks the Boston skyline," says Otten. "We will never have to worry about the novelty wearing off, and the city's premium historical landmark is preserved."
In the end, if all the political hurdles can be cleared, the most money could be realized on the waterfront in a post-Dig, reinvented city. But there is also a lot apolitical sentiment for this concept, because it requires no land-taking, less public funding in what could be a slowed economy, no turf wars with South Boston residents, not even the taking of a street (unless they turn Yawkey Way into a concourse). And all this is at a time when public funding for private sports enterprises might be very difficult to obtain. Otten and Werner hope that a portion of the $100 million that would have gone for land purchasing in the Harrington plan could go to investment in the local Fenway neighborhood community.
Otten and Werner are convinced it will work, emotionally and financially, and that they can run the Red Sox as a big-market franchise.
Of course, getting the team is another matter, entirely. The O'Donnell-Karp group has tremendous local respect and support, political clout and baseball clout, especially if Karp's former partner (and former Indians owner) Dick Jacobs invests. Charles Dolan, whose interest is taking the cable interest NESN (partly owned by the Red Sox), merging it with MSG and having one regional network stretching from the Delaware Memorial Bridge to the Canadian border, is reportedly looking for a local partner, if one of the groups doesn't take him on and hand him NESN.
Rumors have been spread against each, none of which seem to hold much truth. One report had the commissioner's office against Dolan because his family trust is involved in his brother Larry's ownership of the Indians, which isn't true because the office was duly convinced of the separation when Charles was negotiating to purchase the Mets and Yankees. One report claimed Otten owed Fleet Bank $28 million because of ski business closings, but Fleet is financing the Otten-Werner deal. There have been reports of friction between O'Donnell and Harrington, but that seems unlikely because one Red Sox partner says, "Joe and Steve are the only two major financial players in Boston who don't have an enemy."
But while everything comes down to the quality of the bid, Les Otten and Tom Werner are adding Fenway Park to the philosophy of their bid. In reality, the tradition of the Red Sox has been a questionable tradition, at best, one soiled this season in a swamp of fear, loathing and buffoonery. These men who would be owners know this is a proposal to renovate and restore the franchise as well as the ballpark, but that the heart of the romanticism of being a Red Sox fan is Fenway Park, The Wall, the Citgo sign and sitting there looking out where The Babe first pitched and Izzy Alcantara last batted.
What they're playing is that if you separate the Red Sox and Fenway and you have ... the Celtics or Bruins in the Fleet Center?
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