Red Sox: Throwing smoke at Fenway Park

Shop Girl by Kitty Kaufman

There's another team throwing smoke out at Fenway. That's the group of all-stars behind the ongoing renovations: new escalators, updated suites, bigger press room, the new third base deck and restrooms. Owners John Henry, Tom Werner, Larry Lucchino and their partners are directing the infrastructure and safety upgrades. The team behind the team includes Janet Marie Smith, senior vice president of planning and development; Dr. Charles A. Steinberg, executive vice president/public affairs; and Paul Hanlon, manager of planning and development. Edited excerpts follow.

KK: Is it just me or is Fenway magical to everyone?
Janet Marie Smith: This ownership group really recognizes the magic. Of all the proposals the Red Sox got in 2001, the one from John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino was the only one that proposed saving Fenway. You had to know Fenway was in good hands.

Who gets to take a swing on changes?
Smith: What you can do with a historic building involves permission from the City's Zoning Board of Appeals, the Landmark Commission, the Massachusetts Historic Commission, and the National Park Service.

The city deserves a huge amount of credit. They are very much a partner even though every dollar spent is a private dollar funded by the Red Sox. Had they and the neighborhoods not been as generous toward closing Yawkey Way 81 times a year and licensing air rights over Landsdowne for the new seats, this could never have happened.

What do you like best about the project?
Smith: We would all say that the sheer joy of renovating the oldest park in the major leagues is something that feels terrific: like Mom and apple pie. It's hard to imagine in the architectural world a better mission than to save Fenway.

And your Longwood and Landsdowne neighbors?
Smith: Our rapport with the Longwood Medical (MASCO) institutions is fabulous. We're both committed to improving mass transit, and how we manage traffic and parking. The Landsdowne entertainment component, which the Lyons Group has fueled, is very much a part of that. They make good neighbors too. Our beer trucks don't bother their beer trucks; really, you couldn't imagine a more compatible ecosystem.

How does mass transit play in?
Smith: The biggest economic engines in the state are the Longwood Medical institutions and tourism. Fenway is the number one tourist attraction, having edged out the Freedom Trail. So we have an obligation to make sure this works with hotels, restaurants, easy access and all the things that go with making a tourist attraction safe for the fans. We have the highest use of mass transit of any baseball park in the country: 40% of our fans use it.

Best moment about coming to work?
Smith: It's Fenway Park! I'll always remember the first day I met John Henry. We were walking around the concourse with Larry and we came through one of the vomitories and John stopped me and said, "Wait, just wait a minute. Can you believe it, it's Fenway? I have to pinch myself, this is Fenway!"

You helped save Fenway Park.
Smith: One of the things we care about is that as America becomes more environmentally aware, we realize that when it comes to the preservation of buildings, that this is the greenest thing you can do: save the one that is there. Our goal is to make certain Fenway functions as easily as new parks while still keeping its character.

KK: You are the creator of ballpark ambiance and hospitality.
Dr. Charles A. Steinberg: This group started the revolution that changed baseball by using ballparks as catalysts for the redevelopment of cities. Look back to December 2001 when seven groups wanted to buy the Red Sox, six of whom wanted to knock down Fenway Park. One group said, "Let's try to save it."

So you helped save Fenway Park.
Steinberg: Imagine what might have been: knock down Fenway, build a new park by the water, sell this land. Landsdowne is entertainment; you're going to build a hospital right here? I don't think so. Fenway animates the street: small, traditional, in the city, old-fashioned, showcasing the city when you're in it.

What's your inspiration?
Steinberg: The onslaught of generic, circular, concrete cookie cutters that descended in the sixties and seventies keep you from knowing what city you're in. You have Larry Lucchino growing up in Pittsburgh, going to Princeton, and coming out of Yale Law getting hired by Edward Bennett Williams. At the time, Williams happened to own the Washington Redskins. For Lucchino, Forbes Field was part of his childhood home and they tore it down. He never got over that. The wrecking ball to Forbes Field is why we sit here today.

Tell me about your photos.
Steinberg: They're from our first year operating the team. They commemorate a list of 'You can't do that here.' Starting with 'You cannot get a flag the size of the Green Monster made in time for opening day,' we did it. 'You cannot have players greeting fans at the gates,' we did it. 'You cannot annex Yawkey Way,' we did it. The photos speak to us when someone else tries to say 'you cannot.' They don't say it as much anymore.

KK: When you were growing up, could you ever have imagined working here?
Paul Hanlon: It's an amazing place. And everyone remembers the first time they walk into Fenway. It's pretty amazing. You're right, though, that's just how this place is. I'm like that and I've worked here for five years.

Best thing about the job?
Hanlon: There's something different every day.

Hanlon took me through the construction. We stepped outside and closed the door. We stood together looking down at home plate from the new seats. It was just a moment really and although it was cold and dark and quiet, it was spectacular. We were at that moment, alone inside Fenway Park.

© January 2007 for Our Town Brookline
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