By Ryan Deto/Special to the Gazette
PARKSIDE—A $20 million renovation of Franklin Park’s White Stadium into a year-round facility is being proposed by Mayor Thomas Menino and a nonprofit founded by construction company magnate John Fish.
The concept was met with both enthusiasm and concern by a crowd of 70 people at a June 26 meeting at the Franklin Park Golf Clubhouse. Increased youth sports was welcomed, but there were concerns about traffic and possible park impacts.
“This plan is in its infancy,” said Fish, the CEO of New England building giant Suffolk Construction and founding partner of the nonprofit Boston Scholar Athletes (BSA) at the meeting. “We are here to get impact from the community.”
The surprise nature of the proposal also caught the community off-guard. Fish assured the crowd that the City of Boston, through its White Fund, will remain the owner of the stadium. But it remains unclear whether an open bidding process would be required. Gazette questions were referred by the Mayor’s Office to the City parks department, which passed the buck to Boston Public Schools (BPS), which referred the Gazette back to the Mayor’s Office. No explanations were given by any agency.
Fish said he was inspired to renovation White Stadium after reading a Boston Globe article about the poor conditions of BPS sporting facilities. BPS has its athletic offices at the stadium.
The stadium was built in 1945 in the northern end of the park along Walnut Avenue and Sigourney Street and has been underused for years. It can hold only one event per day due to its grass turf and is not accessible to community use.
“I believe strongly that by renovating White Stadium, we can quadruple its usage,” said Fish.
BSA’s concept would add a turf field for more durable use; two paved paved parking lots; two buildings containing offices, locker rooms and classrooms; and a soft plastic bubble that would cover the field in the winter for basketball games.
Fish pledged $5 million toward the $20 million budget and hopes to have a plan and fund-raising campaign in place by November.
“We should not have allowed this stadium to fall to its current condition,” said local City Councilor Tito Jackson, who spoke at the meeting in support of the project.
“We’re really pleased that this kind of investment is being considered for Franklin Park,” said Christine Poff, executive director of the Franklin Park Coalition (FPC), a nonprofit parks group advising Fish’s group on the plan, in a later Gazette interview. “We appreciate the collaborative work so far. We’re optimistically cautious.”
She said the response from FPC members has ranged widely. More and better stadium uses are positives, she said, while concerns focus on traffic and possible “encroachment” on parkland, which the FPC doesn’t want.
BSA and Suffolk Construction already commissioned a preliminary traffic study that was delivered in May, but more work needs to be done for that, Poff said.
No further meetings are scheduled yet. Poff said she plans to meet with Suffolk representatives next month to work out the next steps.
The FPC has a web page stadium project at franklinparkcoalition.org/white-stadium-renovation-project.
John Ruch contributed to this article.