Sox owners take the real estate plunge



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Boston Fenway Park area redevelopment Image: bostonglobe.com & David L. Ryan

The owners of the American professional baseball team Boston Red Sox based in Boston (US) are moving into the real estate development business, teaming up with a prominent developer in an ambitious, long-term venture that would transform the neighborhood just outside the walls of Fenway Park.

The Boston Red Sox are an American professional baseball team based in Boston, Massachusetts (US). They compete in Major League Baseball (MLB) as a member club of the American League East division. The team have won nine World Series championships, tied for the third-most of any MLB team, and they have played in 14.

Fenway Park is a baseball park located in Boston, Massachusetts, near Kenmore Square. Since 1912, it has been the home of the Boston Red Sox, the City’s American League baseball team, and since 1953, its only MLB franchise. While the stadium was built in 1912, it was rebuilt in 1934.

Major League Baseball is an American professional baseball organization and the oldest of the major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada. A total of 30 teams play in Major League Baseball: 15 teams in the National League and 15 in the American League.

The five-acre development will come equipped with an office space, apartment buildings, retail stores, and possibly a hotel, along with public art and green space. It would be built on four sites along Jersey, Lansdowne, and Van Ness streets, as well as Brookline Avenue.

The parcels are owned by Fenway Sports Group Real Estate – a subsidiary of the Red Sox’s parent company, Fenway Sports Group – and the D’Angelo family, owners of the sports apparel company ’47 Brand.

The D’Angelos and Fenway Sports Group Real Estate are joining hands with WS Development – a veteran retail developer that in recent years has shepherded the 23-acre Seaport Square complex – to steer design and construction of the project.

The codevelopers informed that while extensive planning has begun, they are still working out several details – cost, square footage, building heights, and the exact mix of what they intend to build. They are also mulling on the prospect of one day building out over the Massachusetts Turnpike behind Lansdowne Street, which would enable more ambitious development. On October 19th, they notified community leaders and elected officials from the Fenway neighborhood about the project.

The group – including Sam Kennedy, President-cum-CEO, Red Sox, Bobby D’Angelo, Vice-President, ’47 Brand, Jeremy Sclar, CEO, WS Development , have discussed partnership for more than a decade, but talks picked up pace over the last 18 months. Even as Fenway Sports Group has spent $350 million to reconfigure the 108-year-old ballpark over the last 18 years, it gradually purchased nearby properties in anticipation of development.

“We are not some joint venture that is just looking to maximize height or density. We want to create value, but we have to make sure we do no harm to Fenway Park and the fan experience,” Kennedy noted.

In Boston, few neighborhoods have undergone rapid development over the past two decades as the Fenway, with the fast-food joints and gas stations of Boylston Street making way for office and apartment buildings, their ground floors full of bustling eateries that – prior to the just-ended baseball season with no fans in attendance – have thrived on match day crowds and a surging student population.

Of late, a wave of life-science companies has moved in, as well, with an eye on Fenway’s proximity to the Longwood Medical Area. More are coming, with work about to start on two towers above the Massachusetts Turnpike between Beacon Street and Brookline Avenue, part of the massive Fenway Center venture.

But, the low-slung blocks in and around Fenway Park haven’t changed much.

Remarked Fenway Sports Group Principal Owner John Henry in a statement (Henry also owns The Boston Globe), “For 20 years, our goal has been to preserve, protect, and enhance the local and national treasure that is Fenway Park. We are excited to now fully expand our focus through a partnership with WS and the D’Angelo family as we further contribute to a neighborhood that has transformed over the past two decades.”

That partnership has been decades in the making, as well.

The D’Angelos opened their store on Jersey Street in 1947 and over the years began accumulating land in the triangle between Jersey Street and Brookline Avenue, where they now own nine small parcels. When Fenway Sports Group – then called New England Sports Ventures — bought Fenway and its 9.67 acres in 2002, a bonding naturally grew.

“They always had interest in our Jersey Street [location] because it’s good property and its right at their doorstep,” maintained Bobby D’Angelo, who said he has received several substantial offers carrying a lot of weight for his real estate over the years.

“This deal was the right deal. We think that everyone is prospering by it,” D’ Angelo added.

WS will bring development expertise to the project. The Boston-area company has built suburban shopping centers such as Legacy Place in Dedham and The Street in Chestnut Hill, but it is perhaps best known now for spearheading the development of Seaport Square, where it’s constructing office buildings for Amazon and Foundation Medicine and bringing an array of retailers to the neighborhood.

Sclar stated that some elements of Seaport Square may be worked into the Fenway plans, including efforts to make it more pedestrian- and bike-friendly, and to add public art and green space. But he stressed there are key differences.

Sclar added, “Our job in the Fenway is to create public space at the ground level that will be embraced by the neighborhood and Greater Boston. Fenway’s urban. It isn’t like the Seaport, where there was a lot of land to work with.”

Indeed, the project won’t be contiguous. Its four distinct sites range from a large surface parking spot along Brookline Avenue to the stores and warehouses on Jersey Street, to a parking garage on Lansdowne Street where the developers are reluctant to build too tall structures, lest they block iconic views of the Citgo sign (logo of the oil company Citgo) from inside the ballpark.

Boston Planning & Development Authority reviews to follow. Several people active in the neighborhood said they are curious to know what plans the group has in mind and will keep a close watch to ensure that it meets the goals of the broader Fenway neighborhood.

“I’m looking forward to talking with this partnership about all the ways in which their development can be responsive to neighborhood needs through investments in the public realm, affordable housing, and carbon neutrality,” affirmed City Councilor Kenzie Bok, who represents the area.

“Our urban fabric reaches its best form when large institutions like the Red Sox work closely with the communities in which they are embedded on major projects like this,” Bok added.

Apart from housing, retail, office, and lab space – and maybe a hotel – the development could allow the Red Sox to leave their constricted office spaces in Fenway Park. That would also give more elbow room in Fenway’s concourses. A new ’47 Brand team store will fit in somewhere, if not necessarily in its current spot across from Fenway’s Jersey Street gates.

Longer-term, building something larger on a deck over the Mass. Pike could vastly increase the scale of development and help knit together the Fenway, Back Bay, and South End neighborhoods. But, so-called air rights developments are notoriously complex – Fenway Center took two decades of planning – leading to the group deciding to move ahead with a smaller project first.

Added Sclar, “We think there is an opportunity to build over the Pike. We are going to spend time really thinking about it deeply, and we are not going to let that hold this up.”

As for timing, Sclar said the group will not let the COVID-19 pandemic come in its way, which has prompted many companies to have employees work from home and has hurt Boston’s office market, at least for now. Demand for life-science space remains voracious, he notes, and Longwood isn’t going anywhere. Nor will Fenway be this quiet forever.

Observed Sclar, “We’re thinking out five, 10, 20 years. We have conviction in the City; the City has an amazing future. This project will be built and open after [the pandemic] is a bad memory.”

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