The owners of Boston’s baseball team have an ambitious plan to turn the streets around Fenway Park into a lucrative residential, commercial and entertainment district.

Does anyone truly think the owners of the Red Sox won’t get their way at City Hall when it comes to the team’s sweeping plans to redevelop the neighborhood around Fenway Park? 

John Henry’s Red Sox ownership group and WS Development recently took another big step in their pursuit of their ambitious “Fenway 3.0” plan for redeveloping the streets around the storied ballpark. 

Henry’s Fenway Sports Group and WS sketched out, in a letter to Boston officials last month, broad plans for 2.1 million square feet of commercial and residential development around the ballpark, including eventually a deck over the Massachusetts Turnpike as well. 

For even the best-known and savviest of developers, building in Boston is never a cakewalk. The permitting and review process can be long, drawnout, contentious and, when political and neighborhood tensions boil over, highly uncertain as well. 

But Henry and his fellow owners appear to hold some powerful cards as they plunge into the development process. 

Henry Carefully Built a Kingdom 

Under Henry and fellow owner and West Coast media mogul Tom Werner, the Sox have already gone well beyond the bounds of Fenway Park in their bid to juice up the team’s revenues. 

Even as they were adding seats and refurbishing inside of the ballpark, Henry and his fellow Sox owner had their eyes on the potentially lucrative real estate surrounding it. 

The Sox cut a sweetheart deal to lease the former Yawkey Way from City Hall for a paltry $2,000 per game in order to fill it with lucrative concession stands, a story I broke at the Boston Herald in 2002. 

It was pretty clear even then the deal was no winner for Boston taxpayers – sports business experts I spoke with at the time estimated the Sox and their concession partner, Aramark, could easily reap $20,000 to $40,000 in revenue each game day. 

The team, not surprisingly, reupped on the deal in 2013, and while the payments went up, and the Sox owners stand poised to take control of the air rights over Lansdowne and an easement on the ex-Yawkey Way in the next few years, at which point itgoodbye to any more payments to the city, as the Boston Globe has since reported. 

Henry’s ownership group, through its Fenway Sports Group, has been busy in the meantime scooping up properties around the perimeter of the ballpark, with control of four different sites totaling several acres. 

This includes a key development deal with the D’Angelo family, which controls a sizeable slice of retail real estate across from Fenway on what is now Jersey Street. 

Now, there is a bit of irony here in the size and scope of the team’s development plans.  

Executives working for the Sox’s owners have taken well-timed shots at proposals by other developers with plans to build around the ballpark and punctuate its summer skyline views. 

The Sox very definitely gave a cold shoulder to developer John Rosenthal, with the Meredith Management chief just now poised to get his Fenway Center air-rights project underway after nearly two decades of delays. 

Nor was the team particularly thrilled when Trans National Properties’ Steve Belkin proposed a 29-story residential tower at this company’s offices near Fenway Park, with the team decrying the “Manhattanization” of the neighborhood.  

Janet Marie Smith, the team’s architect who oversaw the successful renovation of Fenway, even talked up the idea of a protective zone around the ballpark that would cap the heights of new development around it. 

More than Good Timing 

Building in Boston is never easy, with deep-pocketed abutters ready to go to the mat and a city bureaucracy that no matter how wellintentioned, takes time – and sometimes lots of it – to work through.  

Just recently, British dorm tower developer Scape had to rethinks its plans for development in the neighborhood after stiff pushback by residents. 

By contrast, the Red Sox are likely to get the redcarpet treatment, at least from City Hall, for their big development plans. 

Some of it has to do with the fact that Henry and the executives who run his sports, real estate and media empire are shrewd players. 

The Sox are rolling out the grand plans at just the right time, long after multiple waves of development by Steve Samuels near the ballpark that transformed the area and wore down local resistance. 

“Pioneers get arrows in their backs” as one developer put it to me a few years ago, when I wondered why Steve Karp waited years to push ahead with the redevelopment of Pier 4 in the Seaport, even as neighboring Fan Pier got underway. 

But alas, there’s far more than timing at work here. 

Owning the Red Sox is a bit like being a king of Bostonwith lots of prestige and glamour and, when the team is doing well, coveted tickets and prime seats to convey. 

And whether it’s the mayor, the local city councilor, or the president of the United States, politicians eat this stuff up and just love to find ways to associate themselves with the hometown team. 

Now add to that some other relevant facts, such as Henry’s ownership of The Boston Globe, which sets the news agenda for the region.  

Scott Van Voorhis

I am sure there are all sorts of firewalls separating Henry’s business interests from the newspaper’s coverage of the Sox and Fenway Park, and that coverage has been reasonably tough at times. 

Still, power is power, and there is no disputing that Henry, along with being a billionaire, is arguably one of the most powerful men in New England 

So, will he run into trouble with this big new development project? Unlikely. 

Wake me up if a truly nasty, old-time Boston permitting battle breaks out at City Hall over Fenway 3.0, but I’m definitely not betting on it. 

Scott Van Voorhis is Banker & Tradesman’s columnist; opinions expressed are his own. He may be reached at   

The Odds Are Good for the Red Sox’s Latest Venture

by Scott Van Voorhis time to read: 4 min