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Red Sox Owners Switch From Defense To Offense In Developing Fenway Area

Fenway Park has been open for 110 years, but it wasn’t until the last two decades that the bustling urban hub that exists around the ballpark today began to emerge. 

From high-rises springing up on Boylston Street to the new restaurants and bars that have opened throughout, the Fenway area has become a top destination in the city, and now the Red Sox owners are getting in on the action with their own development.

But it wasn’t always clear how the neighborhood would evolve, or whether the ballpark would even remain there for the long term. 

Fenway Park, photographed in April 2021.

The oldest and smallest park in the league, Fenway had been eyed for demolition in the late 1990s to make way for a larger park that could keep up with escalating costs and players’ salaries. But after the current owners bought the team in 2002, Boston Red Sox President Sam Kennedy said they closely studied the ballpark before committing in 2005 to keep Fenway standing. 

“We started with a defensive posture with Fenway,” said Kennedy, speaking Wednesday at Bisnow’s Boston Sports, Entertainment & Retail Event. “We weren't really sure what to do with the ballpark when we arrived. We spent about two years studying the ballpark to make sure it was structurally sound to survive another generation.”

While ensuring the park’s viability in the neighborhood, executives began looking at the empty parcels surrounding the park that could be acquired. For the next 15 years, the group began collecting parcels and planning for development, Kennedy said. The ownership group is now preparing to open a 5,000-seat music hall in partnership with MGM, and it is moving forward with plans for more than 2M SF of development around the ballpark. 

“About five years ago, we started to play offense, and we're now looking at a big project,” Kennedy said. “The real estate ecosystem is so important to the fan experience. We have about three and a half million people that come to Fenway Park every year for baseball games and concerts, and so the neighborhood is just as important as the ballpark itself.”

Kennedy, alongside executives for the Boston Bruins, Boston Celtics and New England Patriots, discussed the intersection of the Boston sports and real estate industries at the Bisnow event, held at Boston Landing. The 1.79M SF project contains the Celtics and Bruins training facilities and the TRACK at New Balance, a state-of-the-art multipurpose athletic facility. 

NESN Dining Playbook's Jenny Johnson, the Boston Celtics' Rich Gotham, the Boston Bruins' Glen Thornborough, Kraft Sports + Entertainment's Jim Nolan and the Boston Red Sox's Sam Kennedy.

Last year, Fenway Park’s development group shared plans for a 2.1M SF project consisting of eight buildings on Jersey Street, Brookline Avenue and Van Ness Street. The group's vision for the project was not to make a sports-centric hub but a community for workers, residents and tourists.

The Fenway Park owners partnered with the D’Angelo family, owners of the ‘47 brand — a staple sports apparel brand with roots in the area — and Boston-based developer WS Development to bring up the massive project.

The Red Sox parent company struck a deal in 2019 with MGM, which wanted to branch from its Springfield Casino into Boston, to develop a 5,000-seat music hall near Fenway Park. The MGM Music Hall is set to open in September with Bruno Mars headlining its debut show.

TD Garden has seen similar development take place with two phases of the Hub on Causeway project opening in 2019. Boston Properties and Delaware North, which owns the Bruins and operates the Garden, partnered to bring the 1.5M SF mixed-use project to life. Another 634K SF office tower opened last year and has been leased by Verizon and Alphabet's biotech subsidiary, Verily

Boston Bruins Chief Revenue Officer Glen Thornborough echoed Kennedy’s sentiment about the importance of stable partnerships with the development industry. He said that the Hub achieved great success due to the smart partnership moves Delaware North’s owner, Jeremy Jacobs, made. 

“It took 20 years for the Jacobs family to find the right partnership. That's really just, in a nutshell, how important partnerships are,” Thornborough said. “The benefit is this unbelievable mixed-use development space in a partnership with Boston Properties.”

NB Development Group's Kim Good, Gazit Horizons' Jeff Mooallem, Samuels & Associates' Rachael Diharce, Gilbane Building Co.’s Mike O'Brien and Wells Fargo's Adam Davis.

Boston Celtics Team President Rich Gotham said the team’s partnership with New Balance and its Boston Landing project was important for both the team and the expansion of the Celtics' brand. 

“We sit here, over the Mass Pike with 150,000 people a day driving by our logo. [Boston Landing] is the gateway to Boston along with the Bruins and along with New Balance,” Gotham said. “The partnership that we've got with New Balance is both a commercial real estate partnership where we put together a plan to build about this facility together and then a long-term lease to go along with it, but also a commercial partnership where they're a sponsor of the team.”

In Foxborough, the Kraft family has spent millions of dollars on renovations and upgrades to Gillette Stadium as the fan experience has started to change once again, adding in a 1,000-person club, a new entry plaza and concession stands.

“We have a $225M development that's going to truly re-engineer the entire end of the building,” said Jim Nolan, senior chief operating officer at Kraft Sports + Entertainment. “We spent millions of dollars here on infrastructure that nobody sees because we want this to be a permanent home for the Patriots.”

These sports venues were some of the last to come back from the coronavirus pandemic, and they have relied on the return of fans and tourists. Gotham said that although there are still some lasting effects from the pandemic, Boston sports are lucky to have a loyal fan base and numerous development opportunities. 

“It really amazed me and also reminded me how fortunate the four of us are, and really anyone who's a sports fan, to be in a market like this one,” Gotham said. “Some things won’t change back fully, but what you're seeing is new uses of space, new uses of offices and entertainment and nightlife and events. They've come back stronger than ever.”