Political teamwork is needed to build a new sports arena in Boston
All Massachusetts is proud of the world champion Celtics. Within the political community, however, this pride may be as shallow as the Frog Pond on the Boston Common.
Last week's parade and huge rally on City Hall Plaza was little more than a fleeting tribute to a professional basketball team that has provided tens of thousands of hours of wholesome entertainment over the past three and a half decades. A more fitting, more lasting expression of Boston's appreciation would be a new sports arena where the Celtics could play their home games.
Such a facility, if properly designed, could also accommodate other events that now bypass Boston in favor of cities with large multipurpose, all-weather stadiums.
For the millions of people across the nation who watched the Celtics-Lakers series on television, the picture at Boston Garden was not an impressive one. The teams played four games of a world championship series in sweltering heat, hovering at 100 degrees F., in a 60-year-old structure jammed to the rafters with spectators. It's a disgrace for a city like Boston and a state like Massachusetts not to have better accommodations for their players.
What is needed is more leadership from City Hall and Beacon Hill. To his credit, US Sen. Paul E. Tsongas (D) attempted to fill the void, forming a task force of civic and business leaders who three years ago created a plan for building and financing a new arena.
The proposal, while not perfect, could have been fine-tuned if someone at City Hall or the State House, including the current legislative leadership, had devoted some time to it. And the lawmakers should not have listened so intently to a few high-priced lobbyists.
From the outset, it has been apparent that Delaware North, owner of the Boston Garden and hockey's Boston Bruins, wants no part of a new sports arena. The firm is content with its present quarters. It's doubtful Delaware North would show much enthusiasm for a new indoor sports stadium - unless the arrangement allowed the firm to retain its control over all concession operations in the building, its choice of dates, and bargain-basement rent.
Thus, it makes little sense for those who really want a replacement for the Garden to waste more time trying to work out an arrangement with Delaware North. If a new sports facility - with better ventilation and more parking - is built, the Celtics and many other Garden tenants will probably move. This could leave Delaware North no choice but to sell the Bruins or to transfer the hockey team's home games to the new arena.
The building of a new sports arena hinges in part on results of a feasibility study now being conducted by private consultants under a $678,800 contract with the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority. That agency, whose current and prime concern is the planned expansion of the Hynes Auditorium, was created by a 1982 statute and is chaired by state Treasurer Robert Q. Crane.
As a college basketball star who once came within a sneaker-string of making the Celtics team, Boston Mayor Raymond L. Flynn should be as anxious as anyone for the city's long-suffering sports fans to have a more suitable place to watch the home teams.
But Boston simply does not have the funds to get going with an arena, even one of modest proportions. Even so, the city could do much to make available a site that is convenient to roadways leading in and out of the city and easily accessible to public transportation.
As suggested by the Tsongas task force, much of the funding for the project may have to come from the state, through revenue bonds financed through rental receipts or even tax dollars.
Getting the financing package together will require teamwork between the mayor, the governor, and the legislature. At this point, the ball is in the Dukakis court - with much more at stake than in a game.
As a starter, the governor might want to sit down with leaders of the Greater Boston business community (especially those who would benefit from a new arena) to try to develop a public-private partnership for bankrolling the project. In other cities, the involvement of business interests has produced modern stadiums that contribute to the local economy, even if they are not big moneymakers.
As suggested by the Tsongas panel, some of the money for the proposed $58.8 million arena complex could be raised by increasing the state's 5.7 percent occupancy tax on hotel and motel rooms. This would have a minimal effect on Bay Staters' wallets, since most of the levy is paid by tourists.
A second possibility for funding could come from a new tax on tickets sold for various programs - not only at the new facility but also at various theaters and halls in eastern Massachusetts.
The feasibility study, now in progress, should not be confined to an indoor arena. Consideration should be given to a combination facility that might accommodate the Boston Red Sox and their fans, who deserve more than what the outmoded Fenway Park - with its critical shortage of parking - has to offer.
The ballpark property could be sold for commercial or residential development , and the money received could be put toward rent for the new stadium and toward building a better team.
Getting the Red Sox hierarchy to leave Fenway Park, however, would be difficult because of the sentiment attached to the place. Clearly, it is time to put sentiment aside and, in the interest of the long-suffering fan, a modern stadium (perhaps with a dome or retractable roof) should be built.
A new home for Boston's indoor and outdoor sports teams - and other activities requiring a large seating capacity - seems to make good sense, since it would ensure maximum use of parking facilities, hotels, shops, and other stadium-related operations.