The Greater Boston Stadium Authority (Part II)

Credit: The Boston Globe, July 1, 1965

 

The politics of Boston of the early 1960s were unkind to Sullivan, who nevertheless persisted in his plan to get a permanent home for his Patriots. By April 1961, Sullivan’s timeline had shifted to a planned 1964 opening for his proposed “all weather, all purpose” stadium. The media began to take notice of Sullivan’s plight. On April 14, sportswriter Arthur Siegel proposed in the Boston Globe that the Sox could mitigate concerns about early season weather by partnering with the Pats to build an all-weather stadium. On September 20, sports writer Harold Kaese wrote in the Globe that Boston was “one of the most backwards major cities in the country when it comes to housing its professional baseball and football teams.” In his piece, Kaese lamented the low seating capacity of Nickerson Field and lack of parking at Fenway Park. Like the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce a year earlier, he extolled the virtues of multipurpose stadiums like Candlestick Park in San Francisco and DC Stadium (Later RFK Stadium), both of whom had vast parking lots and could seat 40,000+ people for both football and baseball.

Sullivan would eventually get a lifeline when the Massachusetts legislature authorized the creation of the “Greater Boston Stadium Authority” in August 1962. Governor John Volpe appointed Sullivan as the head of the Stadium Authority, though Sullivan promised to recuse himself whenever matters involving the Pats were at issue. It was eventually decided that the site of the stadium would be near South Station, along the Southeast Freeway. Funding for the stadium, which was estimated at $50 million, would come from the issuance of bonds and not from the taxpayers. The Authority was responsible for selling the bonds and raising funds for the stadium. By this point, the Red Sox had indicated that they would be interested in playing in the stadium if the “rental fees were reasonable” and they could get an iron-clad contract.  Tom Yawkey even extended an olive branch to the Pats and allowed them to use Fenway Park as a home venue for the 1963 season. The timeline for completion of the new stadium was initially announced as 1965.

As the clock ticked towards 1965, little progress was made on the building of an actual stadium. Plans were drawn up, discarded, and then drawn up again. Sullivan ran into road block after road block and 1965 came and went without a stadium in place. The actual act of selling $50 million in revenue bonds proved more difficult than he anticipated so he expanded his proposed stadium idea to include an arena for the Boston Bruins and Celtics. The plan eventually came to include a shopping complex. Sullivan continued in his role as enthusiastic booster as he paraded around Boston showing off plan after plan. Tom Yawkey joined the chorus as attendance crated at Fenway Park as the Sox struggled throughout the 60s. Initially blaming the limitations of the park for their troubles, Yawkey joined Sullivan in asking that a new stadium be built.

Despite all of his changes to the original plan however, Sullivan still struggled to sell bonds. He eventually went back to the state to ask that they back the bonds, they said no. He even asked the City of Boston for a tax break on the commercial space and parking lots, reasoning that the increased economic development would ultimately be a boon for the city but they also said no. The stadium idea ran into further troubles when the Bruins and Celtics pulled out, choosing to remain at the Boston Garden.

The death knell for the stadium idea came in 1967 when, after the success of the Impossible Dream season, the Red Sox pulled out of the deal and decided to remain at Fenway Park.

Don’t weep too much for Billy, he eventually found greener pastures in Foxboro.

Acknowledgements

The Boston Globe’s archives were a tremendous help to compiling this piece. Charles Bevis’s article on Billy Sullivan for the Society for American Baseball Research (linked within the article) was a valuable source of contextual information about Sullivan and supplemental information about his push for a stadium.

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