BRA may be expanding Sox street deal

Agency documents suggest Van Ness Street in play

The Boston Redevelopment Authority has hired an outside law firm to help negotiate a new deal with the Red Sox for the use of Yawkey Way and the Green Monster seat air rights over Lansdowne Street, with internal agency communications suggesting the deal could be broadened to include an additional street around Fenway Park.

Records obtained under the state’s Public Records Law indicate the BRA has paid the Boston law firm of Greenberg Traurig $91,000 in legal fees to date plus $8,500 in expenses to renegotiate the deal with the Red Sox. James Masterman, the primary lawyer on the case, is pulling down $385 an hour. Greenberg Traurig has also paid Bryne McKinney & Associates, a real estate advisory firm in Boston, $5,000 to date for consulting work.

The BRA has refused to discuss its negotiations with the Red Sox, or reveal the specifics of what Greenberg Traurig is doing for the agency, claiming attorney/client privilege. The Red Sox also declined comment. But among the public records obtained by Commonwealth was a document suggesting the BRA might be contemplating offering the Red Sox more than just Yawkey Way and the Lansdowne Street air rights.

The contract cover letter from Greenberg Traurig carries the subject heading: “Boston Redevelopment Authority/Demonstration Project Acquisitions: Lansdowne, Van Ness and New Streets, and Yawkey Way.”

Right now, the City of Boston, which owns Van Ness Street, allows the Red Sox to close off the portion of the street abutting Fenway Park to use for employee parking during game days. The team does not pay the city any money for this privilege. Among the 12 city streets where vehicles are banned in the City of Boston, Van Ness is the only one closed off that benefits a single commercial entity.

The “new street” mentioned in the Greenberg Traurig letter will connect perpendicularly to Van Ness Street and will be built and paid for by Samuels & Associates as part of the company’s new development in the area called the Fenway Triangle Mixed Use Project, according to Samuels spokeswoman Diana Pisciotta. Some portions of the new street will be owned by the BRA, while other portions will be owned by Samuels. The street will have a permanent easement as a public way. It is unclear why Greenberg Traurig mentioned the “new street” in its letter to the BRA.

The BRA’s current deal with the Red Sox, which is set to run out at the end of the season and is now being renegotiated, allows the team to do two things: close off the portion of Yawkey Way abutting the park on game days for use as a food and entertainment court and to maintain the storied Green Monster seats in the air space over Lansdowne Street.

In 2002, the BRA declared Yawkey Way and the Lansdowne air space “blighted” areas, thus giving the agency the right under state law to seize the properties from the City of Boston by eminent domain. The BRA paid the city no money for the properties.

Critics say declaring properties blighted is a common ploy to give the property to a favored party and avoid competitive bidding. The BRA is not required to put such properties out to bid, whereas the city would be, according to Herbert Gleason, a former City of Boston corporation counsel who has practiced municipal and real estate law in the city for many years.

“It was all bullshit. The area was in no way blighted,” says Gleason. Victor Matheson, a sports economist at The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, adds: “It seems completely absurd to declare something is blighted when you’ve got 3 million people every year walking through the gates of Fenway Park.”

Forged in 2003, the BRA deal turned out to be a financial gold mine for the Red Sox. At the end of 2011, it was estimated that over the previous nine years, John Henry and his fellow owners had raked in additional revenue to the tune of an estimated $45 million through the use of the two properties, while paying the BRA about $1.7 million, according to the Boston Globe. If the BRA had insisted on a 10 percent revenue-sharing arrangement, the agency would have earned $4.5 million.

As the BRA and Red Sox negotiate a new deal, City Councilor and mayoral candidate John Connolly says he’s concerned about a fait accompli. “My experience has been that there are preordained decisions made in a process that are less than transparent,” he says. “The community needs to be involved right at the very outset.”

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Others wonder why the BRA saw the need to hire outside legal counsel to negotiate with the Red Sox.

“I know some of the lawyers in the BRA and they’re all very competent,” says Samuel Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a government watchdog funded by businesses. “This is what they do — real estate law. So I can’t explain why it’s so complicated they need to go outside and pay high fees for that.” Gleason agrees. “It would seem to me that negotiating a deal with the Red Sox is something that the BRA legal staff is perfectly capable of handling on its own,” he says.