Cunha probes BRA-Sox deal at glacial pace

After 19 months, Inspector General still investigating

BOSTON MAYOR MARTY WALSH said that if he were mayor in 2013 he would not have supported the agreement between the Boston Red Sox and the Boston Redevelopment Authority that allows the team to close off Yawkey Way and retain the Green Monster seats. Brian Golden, the current head of the BRA, also opposes the deal. Yet state Inspector General Glenn Cunha can’t seem to make up his mind.

After 19 months of review, Cunha won’t say where he stands. He appears to be continuing his investigation (a BRA spokesman says Cunha’s office was in touch with the agency’s legal office as recently as several weeks ago), but it’s unclear what’s left to investigate. The facts of the case are straightforward, it’s not a criminal matter, and the city turned over all the records to the IG long ago.

Cunha has been slow to act from the beginning. He sent a letter to the BRA on Sept. 26, 2013 – hours before the BRA met to consider the deal with the Red Sox — urging the agency to delay a vote until after he had time to study the agreement, the public had a chance to comment, and the agency secured an appraisal of the property rights it was selling.

The BRA board ignored Cunha’s appeal and approved the deal over the objections of one of its board members. Peter Meade, the BRA director at the time and someone who a year earlier accepted the invitation of the Red Sox to fill in for a night as the public address announcer at Fenway Park, defended the decision, saying the agency was receiving a fair price and a predictable revenue stream.

The deal between the Red Sox and the BRA made permanent a temporary arrangement that was forged in 2003, shortly after the redevelopment agency acquired Yawkey Way and the air rights above Lansdowne Street through eminent domain. The BRA called the area “blighted” as part of its land taking.

The agreement between the BRA and the Sox allowed the team to fence off Yawkey Way, which abuts Fenway Park, and turn the public street into a private food court whenever an event is being held at the ballpark. The deal also transferred the air rights above Lansdowne Street to the Red Sox, giving the team unfettered ownership of the Green Monster seats.

In return, the Red Sox agreed to pay the BRA $734,000 a year for 10 years – a total of $7.34 million. Critics of the deal say the BRA should have demanded a percentage of whatever revenues the ballclub made by closing off Yawkey Way and building the Green Monster seats. The Boston Globe estimated in 2011 that the club made $45 million in additional revenue from Green Monster seats and Yawkey Way sales between 2003 and 2011.

A separate 2013 deal with Boston’s police and transportation departments allows the Red Sox to close off the portion of Van Ness Street abutting Fenway Park and turn the roadway into a private parking lot for VIPs and employees when events are held at the ballpark. The Red Sox paid the city nothing for the Van Ness rights, which were granted in perpetuity.

It’s not clear what Cunha’s office is focusing on. He could be trying to determine whether the deal with the Red Sox should have been put out to bid or examining the validity of the original taking. Whatever his focus, any finding of wrongdoing would have to be turned over to Attorney General Maura Healey.

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Mayor Walsh has been critical of the deal. BRA Director Brian Golden has opposed it. Former inspector general Greg Sullivan, who is now with the Pioneer Institute think tank, said the deal was flawed.

Only Cunha remains silent.