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New England Revolution Soccer Specific Stadium: Any bets?

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Here’s info on the status of New England Revolution soccer-specific stadium proposal. Talked with Jonathan Kraft, Brian Bilello, Pat Sullivan, others. The story is published in the New England Soccer Journal:


The odds of the Revolution – or anyone – building a Boston stadium, soccer-specific or not, are close to zero. That was to be my theme for this column, after having researched local stadium projects from the 1940s through the recent failed proposal for the Bayside Expo site.

But, following an informal interview with Jonathan Kraft, I am modifying my stance. Jonathan seems to be 100 percent certain it will happen, and soon. So, meeting him halfway, I’ll say maybe there is a 50 percent chance of a Boston stadium being realized.

It is difficult to remain optimistic after encountering so many deceptions, obstacles and roadblocks. But if the Krafts are positive about this, you can’t count them out.

They are, though, only the latest in a long line of stadium suitors in Suffolk County. Writing about the imminent erection of Schaefer Stadium in Foxboro in 1971, the Globe’s Harold Kaese counted 29 proposal rejections.

In 1922, Sam Mark built the first soccer stadium in the U.S. in Fall River. But Mark’s Stadium did not set a trend, and several venues played host to soccer matches in the Boston area during the last century, according to Alan Foulds’ Boston’s Ballparks and Arenas. The best might have been the Walpole Street Grounds, home of the Boston Wonder Workers of the American Soccer League – until the land (now Northeastern University) was reclaimed by New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad in 1929. The Wonder Workers then went to Everett Memorial Stadium, and the move seemed to accelerate their demise.

In 1946, Mayor Curley proposed a football stadium seating 75,000-plus for Columbus Park in South Boston. (Yes, just across from the Bayside Expo site). Curley said the 1920s construction Columbus Park facility could be expanded to “seating [100,000],” according to Oct. 1, 1946 editions of the Globe. The mayor did not set a price tag, but the story noted that in 1940, a municipally-owned Boston Stadium proposed by Mayor Tobin was priced at $1 million.

Soccer teams, as well as the NFL’s Boston Redskins and Boston Yanks, had to be nomadic, staging games at Boston College, Boston University, Fenway Park, Harvard Stadium, Veterans Stadium in Quincy. The emergence of the Boston Patriots in the 1960s changed the dynamic, the Patriots’ popularity leading to concerted attempts to construct a multi-purpose stadium in the area.

By 1967, sites being considered included Canton, Dedham, Dorchester, East Boston, Fenway, Fort Point Channel, the Harbor Islands, Newton (on the grounds of the Woodland Golf Club), Readville, South Station area, Stoughton, Walpole, Weston, Westwood, Wilmington. Among the low-priced possibilities were a $5 million expansion of White Stadium. On the expensive end was a facility with a retractable roof, supported by helium – price estimates ranged from $55 million to $85 million. At the time, the only domed stadium was the Houston AstroDome, built at a cost of $35 million in 1965.

In those days, costs were lower (even owing for inflation) and land was seemingly more accessible. After several years of pitching and shopping, Billy Sullivan settled on a plot off the Southeast Expressway and near the MBTA Red Line tracks.

“The closest we ever came to a football stadium [in Boston] was Neponset,” former Patriots general manager Pat Sullivan recalled in a recent interview. “It’s now the site of [Pope John Paul II Park], across from the Keystone Building. It would have cost $16 million, 53,000 seats, and the city council voted it down at the very last minute. There was a lot of pressure from the neighborhood – Neponset and Ashmont. And three weeks later, we went to Foxborough.

“It was literally a dump. At that stage, it used to be called MDC-owned land, now it’s Parks and Recreation. And they reclaimed it and made it appropriate for people to walk on and play on. It would’ve been a terrific site for a stadium. But they didn’t want it. You have to have the right neighborhood and them accepting it for such a thing. It does create an imposition on the neighborhood.”

By 1971, Schaefer Stadium was completed at a cost of $7.1 million. In Schaefer’s first soccer match, Eusebio scored twice for SL Benfica in a 2-2 draw with Sporting CP June 16, 1972. An announced 24,396 crowd encouraged organizers to bring the teams back a week later. But soccer was not considered a part of the stadium plans until the emergence of the New York Cosmos, Sullivan said.

The Sullivans experienced similar setbacks to those of the Krafts.

“Visionaries think big and think about how this is going to affect things over a long period of time,” Sullivan said. “People who think about their own situation think in a very narrow sense – how is this going to affect me, rather than how it’s going to affect the overall community?

“I honestly think back today – where we located a stadium originally in 1964, right at the end of the MassPike [where] now it’s all going into the airport – could have been an incredible place for a sports facility, not only for the Patriots and Red Sox, but the Celtics, as well. The Red Sox had agreed to move out of Fenway Park, which was part of a big stadium plan, and a multi-purpose venue would’ve been fine at the time. The Celtics wanted to move out of the Garden and the Bruins would have moved, also, but they wanted a bigger piece of the concession and that squashed it.”

One factor that makes the Krafts’ bid different than proposals mentioned above is the scale. Also, there are precedents for this transforming a section of the city, as has happened in Orlando, Portland, Toronto.

“It fits a little more from the neighborhood standpoint,” Revolution president Brian Bilello said. “It would be 22,500. There is public transportation, so there are not heavy carloads, at all. Games are Saturday night, so it’s off-peak hours.”

The Revolution have explored several areas – Roxbury, Somerville (back on the radar, I’m told), Widett Circle. If there are doubts about commitment, planning alone is expensive – $3 million-plus has been spent on the Bayside Expo site, another $2 million on others.

“Those diagrams are not just to look cool,” Bilello said. “Our commitment to building a soccer specific stadium for the Revolution isn’t wavering. We are committed as ever. We showed the rendering so fans can understand the type of building – it’s going to be first class, great for fans – 4,000 standing supporters seats behind the goal, premium amenities. The premium seating is the best in all Boston sports. The whole sideline would look like Sporting Kansas City, looking out on the Bay.”

Many believe the Revolution need their own stadium in order to solidify their identity and regain their standing among the MLS elite teams. The Revolution believe Boston needs a stadium to help the city progress.

“We are aiming very, very high with this,” Bilello said. “It is not a high school stadium. This is a 30-year-plus project. This is something that would excite soccer fans, and the general sports fan. It [would have] a grass field, be a venue for the national team. It would drive the sport forward.”

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