“It was the worst abuse I’ve ever seen in state or city government since I took over as Inspector General,” observes Gregory Sullivan, the Massachusetts taxpayer’s watchdog under governors Mitt Romney and Deval Patrick.
Last season, in the hours after David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, and their bearded teammates defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, the Boston Red Sox won a more lucrative victory. With Beantown transfixed on the championship, the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) and the Red Sox entered into a new deal that grants the team use of city streets in perpetuity in exchange for $7.34 million.
The deal, approved by the BRA in September, enables the Red Sox commissary, run by Philadelphia-based Aramark, to permanently close out the competition on Yawkey Way, which parallels the third-base line and features the two most heavily trafficked entry points into the park. A side deal with the city gives the club rights to Van Ness Street, a public road that becomes a private parking lot for the Red Sox whenever Fenway hosts events. And, perhaps least objectionable to Bostonians, it grants air and subterranean rights on Lansdowne Street for the “Monster Seats” that rise above the famed left-field wall.
On game day, the taxpayer’s ability to walk on a public street comes at the price of buying a ticket from a private, multi-billion-dollar business. Boston vendors seeking to compete with the Philadelphia-based company peddling sausages, cheeseburgers, beers, and soft drinks can’t even buy their way onto Yawkey Way. The city and the Red Sox grandfathered in a handful of Boston street vendors into the area. “Once they pass, they can’t pass that on to their families,” one local in the sausage business, fearing repercussions, told Breitbart Sports on the condition of anonymity. “So once they’re gone, the Red Sox have the business.”
“The vendors who used to be down there with the sausage carts got kicked out,” the former inspector general, who now serves as research director at the Pioneer Institute, observes. “Now the Red Sox can sell whatever they want in the street. It’s big money.”
Before cordoning off the competition, the Red Sox enjoyed an emptied playing field in the process of obtaining the rights to the streets. Remarkably, the BRA refused to permit citizens to speak at the meeting prior to the vote, refused a request by the state inspector general to delay the vote to obtain a valuation of the land, and refused to consider competing bids that might have won taxpayers a better deal for Yawkey Way, a street that they can no longer freely drive or walk on before, during, and after Fenway Park events.
“The process could have been more transparent and open to public input along the way,” BRA spokesman Nicholas Martin tells Breitbart Sports. “The current leadership here feels that the board members were apprised of the details later than they should have been and also that the public should have had a chance to comment or provide input before the deal was finalized.”
A BRA decision that characterized the area surrounding Fenway Park, pricey real estate even by Boston standards, as “urban blight” made an initial deal between the city and its beloved team possible in 2002 and served as the justification for the eminent domain taking in 2013. “That’s like calling Disney World on Fourth of July Weekend or Faneuil Hall a ‘blighted urban area,'” Sullivan tells Breitbart Sports. “It’s a vibrant cash cow.”
That initial, ten-year demonstration project came cheaper for the Red Sox. They paid the city less than $200,000 a year for utilizing public streets for private gain. So the new agreement, as controversial as it is, actually represents, at least in its first decade, a better bargain for the taxpayer than the one it replaced. The Red Sox agreed to give the city $734,000 in each of the next ten years, and sold land for $2,667,000 to Boston that allows the city to carve a new street, and in exchange Boston gave the team the rights to the streets for as long as Fenway Park stands. The city takes no cut from the profits from sales on their streets, nor do they receive any compensation after the ten years expire. Boston, and not the Red Sox, will maintain the streets.
The Red Sox refused requests by Breitbart Sports to comment on the land grab. Last fall, Charles Cellucci, the team’s security director, framed the deal as necessary for public safety, saying that Yawkey Way “serves not only as a festive, expanded concourse area, it also plays a critical public safety function for the orderly entrance and exit of our fans during games. It is also a key evacuation route in case of a fire or other emergency.”
The team similarly characterized the transformation of Van Ness Street into a parking lot for team employees as a safety measure. David Friedman, hired from the Massachusetts attorney general’s office, said closing off part of Van Ness Street “enables Fenway Park to continue to operate safely” and benefits “city agencies charged with public safety and orderly transportation.”
“They said it was for security reasons,” the state’s former inspector general tells Breitbart Sports. “That’s absurd. It’s about free parking. Who can’t see that?”
The Olde Towne Team played hardball. The Red Sox hired Friedman, its counsel and a club vice president, straight from the top of Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office. The Red Sox invited the president of the BRA, the regulatory body deciding whether to cede Yawkey Way and Lansdowne Street, to serve as the public address announcer for a game. In a public relations happy accident, the agreement granting the Red Sox permanent rights to the streets abutting Fenway Park started the day after the Red Sox won their third World Series in ten years–though the deal had been largely a fait accompli for more than a month. A week before the new pact took effect, John Henry, owner of the Boston Red Sox, finalized a long-in-the-works purchase of the one local media organ–The Boston Globe–powerful enough to expose the no-bid deal on coveted property strangely dubbed “urban blight.”
The Red Sox now essentially own several city blocks.
“This is our f—ing city,” David Ortiz dramatically announced in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing, “and nobody is going to dictate our freedom.” Seventeen months later, Boston street vendors quietly wonder whether the slugger’s bosses took his words too literally.
Daniel J. Flynn, a former Fenway Park vendor and author of The War on Football: Saving America’s Game (Regnery, 2013), edits Breitbart Sports. Check back tomorrow for part two of this series.