At a recent community meeting, as reported in the JP Gazette July 5 (“White Stadium could get $20m fix-up”), John Fish presented compelling statistics demonstrating the success of the Boston Scholar Athlete’s program, followed by vague plans outlining his vision for a renovated White Stadium as the program’s signature sports facility. PowerPoint slides not done to scale illustrated new parking lots and additional buildings. The tone of the presentation was urgent and for me very worrisome. It is imperative that the setting of an intensively used new facility in a Frederick Law Olmsted park should be approached deliberatively.
There are many questions to answer. White Stadium has the capacity to seat 10,000 people. Can the neighborhood and the park support that number of visitors on a regular basis? It is unclear who will do the renovation. John Fish says it is a $45 million project, of which he will donate $5 million and raise $20 million from private donors with the expectation that the city will contribute $20 million. He indicates that his company would expect to do the work. Should there be a bidding process?
Wisely, he suggests that he will set up a trust fund to cover recurrent maintenance costs. However, the amount of money is not specified and he says he would need a management contract from the city so that he can maintain the stadium independently from the rest of Franklin Park. The legal aspects of this arrangement are unclear. Much needs to be worked out concerning the impact of the new facility on the maintenance needs of the overall park.
Lastly, at the meeting multiple athletic coaches explained that specific criteria must be met for the athletic facilities to meet the needs of their student athletes. How will that input be facilitated?
Frederick Law Olmsted wisely left the city of Boston a park in its center—a green refuge for recreation and contemplation. The communities immediately surrounding the park are overdue for an infusion of wisely deployed investment. However, an auto-dependent, asphalt-ringed, poorly maintained event magnet in our midst will be a net loss.
Asking John Fish to embrace a vision of a renovated White Stadium that also enhances the overall beauty of Franklin Park is not to criticize or attack the compelling Boston Scholar Athlete program he has founded. Finding ways to rehabilitate and rebuild existing structures such as the Overlook Shelter would benefit everyone.
At the meeting I understood John Fish to commit to forming working groups on different aspects of the planning process. At a minimum, groups addressing traffic and parking, fiscal and legal provisions for upkeep and maintenance, and criteria for top-notch athletic facilities should be established.
To ensure a legacy that will last centuries to come, the planning process must be deliberative and accountable and call upon the skills of the world-renowned architects who work in Boston. Franklin Park is a historic landmark and its restoration should reflect that importance.