Proposal to renovate Franklin Park’s White Stadium draws favorable reaction
While most consider the proposed multi-million dollar project to revitalize the White Stadium in Franklin Park a good thing, others say they are concerned about changes the project could bring, including losing valuable green park land.
But local leaders and park advocates believe a satisfactory plan can be worked out.
“I am very excited about the stadium project. It is going to revamp a city gem,” said Tito H. Jackson, Boston City Councillor for District 7. “This is an opportunity to invest in our youth and also an opportunity to combat a big issue in childhood obesity.”
The White Stadium Renovation project is the brainchild of John Fish, owner of Suffolk Construction Co. and founder of Boston Scholar Athletes, a program that supports high school students.
Fish has promised a $5 million investment out of his own pocket to kick off the project. White Stadium, which is now managed by Boston Public Schools (BPS), is used for fall football games on Friday nights and track and field meets in the spring.
The stadium houses the BPS athletic department offices and has locker rooms, a concession stand and storage areas. The worn-down condition and disrepair of the stadium is evident.
The proposed project has two phases. The first includes: upgrading the stadium, creating additional parking lots and expanding the outdoor basketball area with additional courts and lights for more seasonal use as a Boston Neighborhood Basketball League site.
Phase two includes a facility for indoor courts and athletics, as well as offices and tutoring classrooms.
On June 26, Suffolk Construction, Boston Scholar Athletes, the Franklin Park Coalition and others met with neighbors and Boston citizens at the Franklin Park Golf Course Clubhouse to kick off the fund-raising campaign for the project, as well as continue the ongoing discussion about concerns.
Franklin Park is located in the geographic heart of Boston, between the neighborhoods of Dorchester, Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, Mattapan and Roslindale.
According to the Franklin Park Coalition board, which has met several times with park neighbors, the biggest concerns are about traffic, parking, long-term management and impact on surrounding woodlands.
The coalition has detailed its highest priorities concerning the project. These include making sure the facilities and programs are designed and managed to promote increased use of the park and to foster community among the diversity of park users and neighbors. In addition, coalition members say they want assurances that the renovation will improve the park as an open green space with historically important features.
“The Franklin Park Coalition board of directors welcomes the opportunity to participate in the development of this potential improvement for an underutilized and currently inaccessible section of the park,” the board said in a statement.
Some reports estimate the total cost of the project at $45 million, but most are choosing to focus on phase one of the project, which reportedly carries a price tag of less than $20 million.
According to Franklin Park Coalition Director Christine Poff, that is the approach that the coalition is taking. “I think it is easier to commit to the first stage, which is just a stadium renovation and possibly some parking lots,” said Poff.
She called the coalition “cautiously optimistic.”
She said the reaction has already been firmly on both sides of the fence. “Some people are horrified and others think it is fabulous,” she said.
While she admitted the initial polar reaction is typical for a project with the potential for such an impact on the surrounding community, she said the coalition is going to work as a facilitator between supporters and detractors and help resolve the competing interests.
But she does not hesitate to say there are some really great possible benefits to the project.
“The exciting part is that nobody has ever come to make this level of investment in Franklin Park before,” Poff said. “It is an area of the park that is underutilized and under-maintained. … If there could be some improvements in addition to the stadium that could be a real plus for the park.”
Poff was also quick to praise Fish and Suffolk Construction. “Suffolk has been great so far,” she said. “I think they are community philanthropist who are trying to the do right thing.”
Fish already has the backing of Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and the city for the project.
Councillor Jackson said he was “behind” the project and has confidence that the issues surrounding the renovation can be addressed to the satisfaction of all and that the project, which he called a “very important and forward thinking project,” can be successful.
“They are issues not obstacles,” Jackson said. “We will work to make sure the needs wants and desires of the community are heard and addressed.”