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Original Issue

Slow death by committee in Boston

Politicians talk and talk about a new stadium, but nobody does anything

Quick, now, what is a Boston politician? It's a governor who explains that his hair is turning dark again because he drinks olive oil. It's a mayor who tells Sandy Koufax, "You are the greatest right-handed pitcher in baseball history." It's a woman on the city council who throws ashtrays at people and calls a councilman a bald-headed SOB—in public. And it is every legislator who plays the daily game of political football with the question of building the new sports stadium that Greater Boston needs so badly. Unless the governor of Massachusetts, John A. Volpe, the mayor of Boston, John F. Collins, and the other politicians involved act soon on some stadium proposal, the Boston Red Sox may well become the San Diego Surfers and the Boston Patriots could turn into the Seattle Rainmakers.

The situation is this: there is only one professional stadium in Boston—ancient, obsolete Fenway Park, with its 33,524 seats, its totally inadequate parking facilities and its Great Wall in left field. The Red Sox, who own Fenway and rent it to the Patriots, have survived only because Millionaire Owner Tom Yawkey personally absorbs all operating losses, reportedly almost $1 million in 1965 and $600,000 in 1966. The Patriots make money, but they are not making friends around the American Football League. Since their home park has the smallest seating capacity in pro football, the Pats give visiting teams consistently small take-home checks. This rankles other AFL owners, not to mention NFL owners, who will have to play in Boston when the pro football merger goes into full operation in 1970. "I don't see how you could expect Cleveland, with 80,000 seats, or St. Louis, with 50,000, to want to play us on a home-and-home basis every year," says Patriots President Billy Sullivan.

Yet the politicians do not seem too alarmed that Boston could be left without teams in baseball or football. "Oh, we may lose the Sox and the Patriots," said one, "but we won't lose major league sports, because the owners like the rich New England market." Perhaps so, but it is hard to imagine anyone bringing a new franchise to Boston to lose money playing in Fenway Park.

The need for a new sports stadium was officially recognized in 1962 when Governor Volpe appointed the Greater Boston Stadium Authority. Dodger Stadium opened that year, and new stadiums followed in New York, Houston, Atlanta, Anaheim, Oakland and St. Louis before—in the summer of 1966—the authority presented its proposal: a $98 million complex that would include a stadium with a retractable dome, an arena for the basketball Celtics and the hockey Bruins, and a parking garage. It would be built in downtown Boston using state bonds and state funds for credit. The proposal was submitted to the legislature during the 1966 session. Eut legislators from outlying corners of the state were not about to go home after having approved a $98 million tax-supported stadium that their constituents might never get to Boston to see. The proposal was stillborn.

About this time a private group which included former Red Sox Outfielder Dominic DiMaggio suggested a $50 million domed stadium in suburban Dedham. To overcome an expected deficit of about $2 million annually—baseball and football cannot support an expensive new stadium by themselves—they wanted to have dog racing during the otherwise fallow winter months. The idea of a new track going to "outsiders" infuriated the dog-track owners, who have a powerful lobby at the State House, and the one existing unclaimed dog-track license was canceled immediately. Although the governor reportedly favored the idea of a private group building the stadium, financial experts said it would be prohibitively expensive. Private interests would have to pay top money for the needed land and then pay taxes. A public authority can acquire land by right of eminent domain and does not have to pay taxes.

With the $98 million complex slapped down and the Dedham proposal pigeonholed, Governor Volpe appointed yet another committee to look into the situation. ("Boston had committees studying the stadium problem before we ever even thought about one," says Wayne Valley of the Oakland Raiders, "but now we've had a stadium for a year and Boston is still talking.") The new committee reported to the governor last March. It recommended that a $55 million domed stadium be built in suburban Weston, about 15 miles from downtown Boston, by the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, which is about the only organization in Massachusetts that ever accomplishes anything. The Turnpike Authority, according to its chairman, John Driscoll, wants to build a stadium, and it has devised a method to underwrite the anticipated $2 million annual deficit. The Turnpike Authority each year turns over to the Commonwealth some $4.5 million in unclaimed gas-tax receipts, and more or less by default this money is put into the state's highway fund. Driscoll suggested the governor ask the state supreme court to free this money so that it could be used to cover the stadium's operating loss.

Nothing has been done, although for almost three months now the governor has been promising that a stadium press conference will be held "next Tuesday." The people of Weston, who oppose the idea of a stadium in their little town, threaten litigation that would delay the start of any stadium building and have begun a campaign to get all Turnpike motorists to go through the paperwork required for a gas-tax refund, although, practically speaking, a refund means little more than pennies to the individual. And while both the Red Sox and the Patriots would love to have the Turnpike Authority build a stadium, they would prefer a site in downtown Boston, which could add another $10 million to construction costs.

Meanwhile, Mayor Collins avoided the entire stadium issue. Last year he ran in the primaries for the U.S. Senate, and it was assumed that he did not want to alienate the voters outside of Boston by supporting an expensive stadium in the city. As it turned out, he not only lost the primary, he didn't even carry Boston. Of course, that may be the key to the whole question of why nothing has been done. In Boston you can't be for the stadium, you can't be against it and you can't even be neutral.