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Fenway's Future?

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Fenway's future up in the air

If a new ballpark isn't likely, modest expansion is


Journal Sports Writer - Thursday, May 27, 2004

BOSTON -- Despite tentative plans to further renovate Fenway Park by expanding seating capacity and remodeling some of the present structure, the Red Sox maintained yesterday that they haven't made a determination on the future of the 92-year-old ballpark, now the oldest in baseball.

"We're no different today than a week ago," said Red Sox chairman Tom Werner, a day after principal owner John Henry spoke of adding extra seating, among other projects. "The impression that we've sort of crossed the line and have some grand scheme we're about to unveil is not correct. We're still like the tortoise.

"Emotionally, we're connected to staying here (at Fenway). But beyond that, we don't have anything."

A published report yesterday said the Sox planned to add another 5,000 seats atop the left-field and right-field roofs. But Werner said the expansion would be more modest.

"There's no plan that would increase capacity by more than a couple of thousand," he said.

The Sox current capacity is just under 36,000. The team has sold out every one of its 22 home games this season, and dating back to last year, has sold out its last 86 games, covering more than a calendar year.

The club could probably add several thousand more seats but Werner said the Sox are mindful of keeping Fenway's character intact.

"I think it's a question of preserving the intimacy of the ballpark," he said, "and wanting to preserve it aesthetically, too."


Journal file photo / Gretchen Ertl

No matter how you look at it, Fenway Park is a great place to watch a ballgame, but Red Sox owners want to ensure that fans are a little more comfortable.

But he stressed that the renovation plans are being developed with an eye toward the short-term. Since taking ownership in February 2002, the new ownership group, headed by Henry, Werner and CEO Larry Lucchino, has remade the ballpark, adding seats atop the fabled left-field wall for the 2003 season and this year, installing seating above the roof over the right-field seats.

Among the options being contemplated: removing the plexiglass window that encases the .406 Club, expanding the home clubhouse and moving some of the executive offices beyond the right-field bleachers to create more room.

After paying $700 million for the franchise and ballpark, it's doubtful that the group has the resources to acquire land and construct a new ballpark. The cost of such an undertaking has been estimated at $500 million, and in the current political and economic climate, the team can't expect much public funding beyond some tax breaks and infrastructure aid.

"It certainly would be a challenge," acknowledged Werner of the prospects of a new ballpark, "but I wouldn't say it's completely out of the question."

Werner said the team has asked renowned ballpark architect Janet Marie Smith, who designed Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, to explore a number of options.

"We're here right now and we love it," he said. "It's not as if we're planning to move. At the same time, we want to enhance the Fenway experience. We know there are some issues about comfort in the lower bowl. We know there are some issues about obstructed view seats."

Merely adding 2,000 new seats, which would bring Fenway's capacity to just under 38,000, would provide an inventory of some 170,000 additional seats. However, because they would be on the roof, they wouldn't yield the kind of revenue associated with club seating and luxury boxes.

"We're a very robust franchise," said Werner. "I don't think we'll ever be able to match the (New York) Yankees in revenue, but that may not be necessary. If we can enhance our revenues, that would be nice. But we feel we're one of the strongest franchises, revenue-wise."

Estimates have placed the Sox among the top three revenue producers in baseball, though still far behind the Yankees.

Aside from improving the team's bottom line, though, the Sox want to improve the game-going experience.

"We've got 34,000 coming through the turnstiles every night," said Werner, "and it's important that they're happy. It's important to keep our loyal customers. That's every bit as important as creating more revenue opportunities. The real issue is to be smart about it -- to preserve what's good and make some improvements."

From The Providence Journal

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Fenway park will grow a little. Someday it will have to be abandoned for a new site. It could grow a lot more, but the neighbors already hate the place for noise and vandalism, as anyone knows who has ever lived near the park. The area around the park could become the site of some great new highrises if the sox brass and local landowners could agree on something.

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I would hate to see such a famous part of baseball and America be destroyed. I hope that Boston could restore it or save parts of the grandstand as a museum.

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I would hate to see such a famous part of baseball and America be destroyed. I hope that Boston could restore it or save parts of the grandstand as a museum.

There was a plan a few years back to build a new park directly next to the existing park. Parts of Fenway would have been preserved as a museum of sorts in that plan. The team was sold and plans for a new park have been put on the back burner since. The cost of a new park would be about what the current owners recently paid for the team itself. The city and state are very unlikely to give any money toward construction of a new park.

Another plan which has been touted by people at MIT (I believe) would have the Sox play at Gillette Stadium (home of the Patriots out in Foxboro) for one season while Fenway has a major overhaul. The current owners are trying to renovate the park in pieces allowing the Sox to continue playing there without interuption.

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