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Community groups debate White Stadium renovation plan

Avery Bleichfeld
Community groups debate White Stadium renovation plan
White Stadium was built in the 1940s and has since fallen into disrepair. BANNER FILE PHOTO

Community members are expressing both support and caution in response to the city’s plans to renovate White Stadium in Franklin Park.

Following a fire many years ago, the stadium, which was built in the 1940s and has served as an athletics space for Boston Public Schools as well as a concert venue for the public, fell into disrepair. A request for proposals, announced by the city of Boston in late April, would open the door for a private organization to partner with the city to rebuild White Stadium and operate it under a 10-year lease.

Rickie Thompson, president of the Franklin Park Coalition, said he is looking forward to the renovation, but urges caution around possible negative impacts on the park and surrounding neighborhoods.

“I’d like to see — as all of us would like to see — the stadium renovated and being in good use for the students for athletics and other community events,” Thompson said. “It’s just a matter of impacts on the neighborhood in terms of the parking and, you know, what other community members would think of it.”

A major concern expressed by community members was access to parking around White Stadium, as they anticipate an increase in visitors coming for sports and other events.

“How can you bring 10,000 people in there and not affect the parking in the neighborhoods? There’s got to be some plan, some remediation for that,” Thompson said.

Kevin Batt, a Jamaica Plain resident and member of the Franklin Park Coalition, said that he wants a better understanding of what the parking and traffic impacts might be if the stadium is renovated.

“With the potential for thousands of spectators coming from afar, that’s a real concern for us who live close by,” Batt said. “We already feel some of the impact of what that might be like when we have the two or three Caribbean festivals each summer, and we deal with those, but those are only two or three nights of summer. And so many more games played, if it were a soccer field, for example, would have impacts — so we’d want to understand before getting more deeply into it.”

Under the request for proposals, potential partners must submit a preliminary transportation plan addressing how they plan to mitigate parking and traffic impacts on the community.

Community members also pointed to Carter Playground, a public-private partnership between the city and Northeastern University to renovate a public park, which they said reduced community access.

Thompson said that, as with White Stadium, he used to spend time at Carter Playground in Lower Roxbury as a kid, playing Little League baseball in the summer and skating on the flooded field in the winter.

“Then, once Northeastern [University] got a hold of it, they just kept developing all around as you can see, and we don’t have that kind of community access that we once had,” he said. “So that’s obviously a concern with this situation.”

Louis Elisa, president of the Garrison-Trotter Neighborhood Association, which borders Franklin Park, said that the renovations at Carter Playground detracted from community use, including the addition of a winter-time inflatable tent the university calls “the bubble”.

“We’re clearly not looking for that type of relationship with whoever comes in,” Elisa said. “We’d like them to utilize it to the extent possible, but we’d like to have much as utilization and access to it so that we can have programs and sports activities to continue, and things of that nature.”

Elisa said the stadium used to be a “center of activities” with sports events of the Boston Public Schools and concerts with other sponsors, and said he hopes it will see more use following the renovations.

Thompson said he would like to see it return to use as a prominent athletic space for students. He remembers track meets and football games being played there.

“We’d like to see it go back to students really being able to have a decent, world-class venue where they can develop the talent and the community can come out and enjoy and support it,” he said. “In addition to that, I would like to see some of the community social events like the Uptown in the Park concerts come back there.”

As the stadium is renovated and sees more use, Elisa said he’d like for whoever is selected to partner with the city to work with the community and afford them some benefits of the space, like the possibility for local community groups to hold events there or to run two or three concerts in the summer.

“We’d like to have a couple of programs for the schools, for the churches in the community, to be able to utilize space,” Elisa said. “If they’re going to make money off of this venue … we’d like some of those resources back into community.”