Sunday, December 11, 2011

Coming Soon? The Residences at Fenway Park

On my recent book tour for the bestselling Fenway 1912, when people ask me what I think the future holds for Fenway Park, I answer “real estate.”

As I note in Fenway 1912, part of the reason Fenway Park was built where it was built in the first place was to spur real estate development. And when Fenway Park is replaced, real estate development will also be the issue.

Once the economic benefits of the Sox 100th anniversary are fully exploited by the Red Sox, and every last $250 brick and $75 book is sold [Note: my Fenway 1912 is about 1/3 the price . . . just sayin’], I expect that, ever so slowly, and likely in a whisper campaign to start, we will soon start hearing how Fenway Park, regrettably, is no longer “economically viable,” and that changing economic conditions in the game have rendered the park “economically obsolete” The Red Sox will announce, with regret, that they are reluctantly “exploring alternatives.”

This will take years, but if – or when - the team slips back into “also-ran” status and uses Fenway Park as the reason they can no longer afford to hire high-priced free agents, the inexorable move will have begun. It will not be quick and it will not be easy, because, exclusive of needed infrastructure, building a new ballpark in Boston will be a billion dollar undertaking. But billion dollar undertakings are what people like John Henry (or, if the Sox are sold, a guy like John Henry) do. Someday, and I think that day will come in the next two decades, the Red Sox will move from Fenway Park.

Note that I did not say that Fenway Park will be torn down, because it will not, but the Red Sox will no longer play there. Fenway will, however, be transformed.

I suspect some plan has already been scrawled on much more than a napkin. Remember, Mrs. Henry, Linda Pizzuti, has a background in real estate development and reportedly has been given some authority in this regard around Fenway Park. I think she and other real estate developers look at Fenway Park and don’t just see images of Babe Ruth and Ted Williams cavorting across the field. They look at the stands and see images of hotels and restaurants and condos with names like “The Residences at Fenway Park.”

I think the field itself – and the left field wall – will be preserved and maintained as they are. So will the façade on Yawkey way and perhaps a portion of the bleachers. But I expect the grandstand and most other seating areas to be converted into commercial, residential and hotel space, the most exclusive of which will offer views of the field. Perhaps a few seats will remain so the field can occasionally retain its’ “historic” use, but by and large I think the field will prove to be a private backyard and playground for the wealthy residents of the grandstand condos and hotels. I can envision nearly the entire stands being replaced by condos and hotels built within and on top of the existing structures, perhaps with some limited public access on the roof, so it will still be possible for the general public – at a price - to “experience” Fenway Park, or at least “see” it, and buy the ubiquitous souvenir. If they’re smart, they’ll include a public museum or something similar. Apart from that however, I see a luxury hotel and high priced condos – say 500 or so, starting at a couple of million dollars each, with the “best” going for upwards of $20 million. Fenway Park won’t be torn down, but it will become something it is increasingly – and sadly - becoming now; a place for the wealthy, the well-to-do and the connected. As I argue in Fenway 1912, Fenway Park has always evolved, which is why it remains today, and further evolution – not that I necessarily agree - is probably inevitable. Someday in the not too distant future, instead of saying “I’m going to Fenway,” and having everyone know you mean you are going to see the Red Sox play, you may well have to say something else.

And the next time you go to Fenway, remember that you’re not only watching a game on a field where Babe Ruth and Ted Williams once played, but perhaps from a viewpoint that some fatcat might one day enjoy while smoking a cigar and soaking in the Jacuzzi on his balcony.

Glenn Stout is the author of the best-selling Fenway 1912.

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