Red Sox future: Goodbye to Fenway Park

Jun 23, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; A general view of Fenway Park during the sixth inning inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 23, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; A general view of Fenway Park during the sixth inning inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Red Sox will eventually need to replace Fenway Park. This is a historical look at Fenway and the possible replacement outcome.

The Boston Red Sox and Fenway Park are synonymous to each other with a connection that goes beyond a contrived public relations gimmick of creating a slogan: “America’s most beloved ballpark.”

Betty or Veronica? Ginger or Mary Ann? Old Fenway Park or New Fenway Park? The great questions of our age – forget about the search for a Grand Unified Theory or if Elvis is still alive. Fenway will go – someday.

The ancient ball yard has actually had a troubled life and almost met the wrecking ball on a few occasions as needs, ownership and times have changed since the original construction in 1912.

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Fenway’s first significant renovations were just after the team was purchased by Tom Yawkey and the work was done in the 1933-34 offseason, representing a major construction job during the depression. The only project greater in scope in Boston was the construction of the Tobin Bridge. Disaster struck during the renovation and a fire forced a restart.

Yawkey had the money, being one of America’s wealthiest, so double shifts were used. The use of wood curtailed, with the famed Green Monster being given a coating of tin and structural steel was used extensively to decrease fire possibilities and enhance the lifespan of the park.

Changes through the years have certainly been made, from the addition of bullpens to expansion from a small 300 seat roof box to the multi-tier you see today. Interior and exterior updates continue on a yearly basis to make the park more presentable for a new era.

In the late 1950’s a proposal was put forward for a new all-purpose stadium in Boston to be used by the Red Sox and with the hopes of poaching an NFL team. The plan was to build a stadium on the nearby Fens and then level Fenway for parking. Yawkey soon lost interest and the proposal faded.

The 1960’s saw the latest government feeding frenzy with the creation of the Greater Boston Stadium Authority, which accomplished absolutely nothing but provide patronage jobs. In addition, former Red Sox star Dom DiMaggio fronted a group that proposed a domed suburban stadium that would be financed by turnpike tolls.

In the mid 1990’s the next gem was the formation of the Boston Sports Megaplex that would replace Fenway Park and Foxboro Stadium, plus have a convention center attached. This was the first save Fenway outcry and in conjunction with a neighborhood uprising – the location was South Boston – the plan had no traction and disappeared.

The Yawkey Trust proposal was designed to create a duplicate Fenway to replace the old. The design was by HOK Associates, who have been the driving design force behind many new stadiums. They would even use the original Green Monster and the death knell was the request for $135 Million in public funding and various save Fenway grass-roots protests that silenced that effort.

Next up was a proposal by a possible owner of the team – Frank McCourt. The “Parking lot king” had the nifty harbor side location, strong Boston roots and some financial resources for a privately funded stadium. What McCourt didn’t have was a team and John Henry became owner.

The Henry group had enough sense to realize public funding just would not work and the possible uprising that would be a disaster, so significant renovations have taken place with the idea to have a park that will last at least another 30 years, but then what?

The first issue is the location.

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Boston is a thriving city that is not deserted after the businesses let out, so a suburban location is certainly not an appropriate choice. Baseball stadiums bring foot traffic and with the Red Sox that means plenty of foot traffic, as sellouts or close to sellouts are the standard. Will that continue?

In 1967 the Red Sox had the “Impossible Dream” and the attendance that season set a team record with 1,727,632 and never looked back. Two million and even three million became routine, as the park expanded and the fan base became energized – almost 50 years of attendance figures most franchises dream about. That should continue into the next decade and the next.

The best of location is the waterfront area and that should not change as the decades pass. Proposals often look at that area and with such a small and walkable city, a jaunt to the ballpark on a summer evening would be most enjoyable. The city grew to meet Fenway Park that originally was somewhat out-of-the-way.

What kind of park?

Baseball is unique in that the dimensions can drift from park to park. The interior – the infield diamond – has traditionally set in stone dimensions, but the rest incorporates the history of other parks, the surrounding area and a deliberate design attempt to create a certain level of quirkiness – exactly why the current generation of stadiums are so popular – a trend that will certainly continue. You will probably be sitting in a Faux Fenway in 25 or 30 years. An architectural clone, but with all the technology that year 2040 may present.

This thing isn’t cheap.

A park is often a civic enterprise, even when tax dollar expenditures are minimal. The infrastructure surrounding Fenway Park has significant upgrades – publicly financed – that amounted to about $55 Million. A new park may actually have to rely on a cooperative venture between private and public funding – especially land acquisition. I could certainly envision a city property being leased to the team for the construction of a privately financed stadium.

What about the “old” Fenway Park?

Fenway Park is a dinosaur, but it is also on the historical ledger and receives substantial tax credits for that and that virtually guarantees that the park will still remain with the determination of use. A minor league team is a possibility, use for a collegiate summer league, independent baseball, concerts and maybe special baseball events – use would not be the problem, but maintenance will.

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Maintaining historic property, especially one like Fenway Park is not cheap and that could present issues in the future, especially if it is held by the city or a nonprofit. Once it enters the ledgers other than professional baseball it may follow the other old parks and me a memory. For me, I will not lose any sleep this evening contemplating that, but will enjoy what we now have with the realization that eventually Fenway Park will be replaced.