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This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 10/23/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company


by Thomas C. Palmer Jr., Boston Globe Staff

Boston developer Frank H. McCourt Jr., turning his attention to buying the Los Angeles Dodgers, is looking to sell or find a partner for his 24 acres on the South Boston Waterfront.

The land deal, which could fetch about $250 million, could speed development on a key piece of property in the heart of the city's last frontier of development and a short walk from downtown and the new convention center.

McCourt, 50, who has assembled the tracts over 25 years, has been unable to move forward with ambitious construction plans that have included everything from a new ballpark for the Red Sox to office towers, housing, and retail. But a new developer could bring fresh ideas and momentum for getting something built on the site, which is large enough to accommodate the square footage of 10 skyscrapers.

McCourt, who made a bid for the Red Sox two years ago, struck a deal earlier this month to buy the Dodgers for a reported $430 million. The price includes the stadium and other real estate as far away as the Dominican Republic. McCourt has not disclosed who his partners are in the Dodgers deal.

Within the last week, McCourt informed the Red Sox that he was putting the land on the market, a person involved in McCourt's business said. The team's owners told him that they plan to stay at Fenway Park.

Kevin Shea, a spokesman for the Red Sox, said, "It's understandable that Mr. McCourt and the Red Sox would meet because Mr. McCourt lives in Boston and is entering baseball. While you never say never to alternatives and possibilities, it does not change our course with respect to the future home of the Red Sox." When asked if he meant Fenway Park, he said, "We're improving the ballpark as much as possible and the great question of what to do with Fenway Park, renovation versus any other alternative, is still being studied."

A person close to McCourt said he is not trying to raise cash for the purchase, insisting that he had been planning for some time to sell or find a partner for the waterfront land. And, although he and his family may move to Los Angeles, McCourt said he remains attached to Boston, where his family has lived for generations. His grandfather owned part of the Boston Braves baseball team.

"As part of our effort to acquire the Boston Red Sox . . . we planned to use a portion of our South Boston property as a site for a new ballpark," McCourt said in a statement from Los Angeles yesterday. "Since that time, and long before we knew we would be successful bidders on the Los Angeles Dodgers, we have been exploring other options for the property. While it's still a great site for a ballpark, it is clearly ideal for other types of development as well."

McCourt has been refining development plans for the land, but nothing has been made public.

Nearby Fan Pier, owned by the Pritzker family of Chicago, is the site of another huge mixed-use development that is in the planning stages. However, between economic conditions and political hurdles, the project has not moved forward.

The person close to McCourt said the move in South Boston and the Dodgers deal are not related.

"He now wants to see that property develops in a way that benefits Boston," the person said, and in any case will "move forward on a totally separate track from the Dodgers' purchase."

The Dodgers deal, awaiting Major League Baseball's approval, comes three years after McCourt first proposed moving the Red Sox to South Boston, a plan that drew widespread criticism from neighborhood activists, Fenway Park fans, and many politicians.

McCourt's land, along Northern Avenue, straddling Seaport Boulevard and near Boston Harbor, is located across the Fort Point Channel near the heart of downtown. It is adjacent to several other major developments, including Fan Pier, the John Joseph Moakley Federal Courthouse, the World Trade Center, the Fidelity office towers, and the new Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.

McCourt, who has been using the land largely as a parking lot pending other plans, has retained Cushman & Wakefield of Massachusetts Inc. to find a partner or buyer for the sprawling plot, he said in the statement yesterday.

"It's an absolutely incredible site," said Rob Griffin, president of Cushman & Wakefield. "We see there being a tremendous interest," from one of a dozen or more large land developers nationwide.

An outright sale of the property would mean that plans for a large chunk of South Boston, where McCourt has strong ties, are entirely out of his hands.

Alternatively, McCourt could join forces with a developer, such as Boston Properties Inc., owner of the Prudential Center, or New York-based Tishman Speyer Properties, and share the development responsibilities and revenues. In July, Tishman Speyer agreed to buy 44 industrial buildings in the nearby Fort Port Channel for about $500 million.

Griffin said the McCourt offering is for "a strategic joint venture or recapitalization" of the property. Though either of those could be structured in several different ways, Griffin said, it is most likely that someone will buy a majority interest in the McCourt land - not all of it.

"He'll keep a piece of it," Griffin said. "It could be a land-lease. He's never been interested in selling it. It's his baby and creation of 25 years." The offering will be made public next week.

McCourt had recently been searching for a partner for 10 of the 24 acres. "He's already had a taste of what people want," Griffin said.

Griffin noted that "a couple of billion dollars' worth" of infrastructure has been put into the South Boston Waterfront in the last few years, with the new Ted Williams Tunnel, the MBTA's Silver Line under construction, and a new grid of surface streets taking shape. An $800 million convention center is scheduled to open on Summer Street next summer.

"It's like an open campus with the infrastructure already in place," Griffin said. "It's closer than Cambridge, closer than the Back Bay. You can walk across the bridge to downtown."

Other possible partners include Forest City Enterprises Inc. of Cleveland, which developed University Park in Cambridge, or Hines, based in Houston.

Thomas C. Palmer Jr. can be reached at

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 10/23/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company

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