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Judge rules in favor of White Stadium renovation

Soccer team says it’s ready to proceed with community input

Mandile Mpofu
Judge rules in favor of White Stadium renovation
White Stadium in Franklin Park. PHOTO: YAWU MILLER

After a Suffolk Superior Court judge denied a preliminary injunction against the planned renovation of Franklin Park’s White Stadium, Boston Unity Soccer Partners and its development team are ready to forge ahead with the project.

The renovation would refurbish the dilapidated White Stadium for use by Boston Public Schools students and the community as well as a professional women’s soccer team owned by the women-led BUSP.

“The ruling demonstrates the court’s understanding that the communities around Franklin Park and White Stadium should not have to wait any longer for the decades of neglect and underuse to be addressed,” said Jennifer Epstein, lead owner of BUSP. “There have been other attempts to restore White Stadium, and it is time to move forward.”

Running BUSP alongside Epstein are partners Anna Palmer, Stephanie Connaughton and Ami Kuan Danoff.

The court decision is the latest development in the process to overhaul White Stadium, a project that has received community backlash from some quarters since its proposal. The $80 million public-private Partnership between the city of Boston and BUSP will result in upgrades to the nearly 80-year-old stadium, including the addition of new amenities that meet accessibility requirements.

The group’s decision to reinvigorate a “vital community resource” and transform it into a state-of-the-art stadium for the students at the Boston Public Schools and professional soccer players was “a very intentional choice,” Epstein said. The project, she said, will allow the partners to have an impact beyond the 20 days that the soccer team will use the stadium for home games in a given year.

While residents generally support the renovation, according to a survey conducted by advocacy nonprofit the Franklin Park Coalition in March, many have continued to raise concerns about how much access surrounding communities will have after the soccer team begins using White Stadium.

Epstein highlighted that because of the facility’s current state of disrepair, Boston Public Schools students are only using it for about 250 hours. The renovation would increase the window White Stadium is open to the public and triple the total time Boston Public Schools will use it to an estimated 800 hours, she said.

Other upgrades to the stadium include a high-quality natural grass field, community gathering spaces, a collegiate-level running track and new public bathrooms and water fountains, according to the city of Boston’s website.

BUSP has held a series of community meetings since before the project proposal, but Epstein acknowledged that more could be done to bring the community along in the project, including inviting the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, which was named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit alongside residents of the area, to participate and collaborate moving forward.

She said she and her collaborators are “looking to deepen the relationships that we had already begun, and we’re looking to reach more people and bring them alongside us as part of the process.”

At a public meeting held at the William Monroe Trotter Elementary School on March 25, neighbors of White Stadium shared concerns about the renovation, namely noise, parking, traffic and transportation.

“We need a comprehensive transportation plan to encompass all of these items that are on the drawing board, whether they come to fruition or not, so that people can understand what they’re going to be up against,” said one neighbor who self-identified as Victoria Williams.

That meeting provided an opportunity to listen to the community and take notes, Epstein said. Following the meeting, she spoke individually with some of the community members and later met with the Parkside Neighborhood Association.

In April and May, the city will hold a handful of neighborhood meetings about the stadium renovation. Three of those will be transportation workshops, scheduled on April 9 for Roxbury residents and April 10 for Dorchester and Jamaica Plain residents. According to the city of Boston’s website, the workshops are to discuss game-day traffic, shuttle circulation, sidewalk improvements and more.

BUSP will also implement an annual fund of $500,000 to be distributed to organizations and initiatives that contribute to investments in Franklin Park and the Franklin Park action plan, youth sports and development, health and wellness of Black and brown communities and local business development, Epstein said.

The renovation is expected to generate jobs for community residents, increase opportunities for collaboration with local businesses and create engagement opportunities for students through various internships.

Epstein said her family, part of the Celtics ownership group since 2002, has a history of contributing to initiatives that address racial injustice and inequity in New England. The team and its foundation “have made a strong commitment to addressing racial injustice and inequity in New England, with an emphasis on combatting issues that have impacted the Black community as a result of systemic racism,” she said.

She added that her husband’s real estate development firm, Able Company, is co-developing Nubian Ascends with Richard Taylor and Nubian Ascends Partners, “which will have a positive impact on the people of Greater Roxbury by providing lab training and access to the life science industry while also building the new Greater Roxbury Arts and Cultural Center.” Able Company, whose offices are located in Nubian Square, is also the development partner for the White Stadium project, she said.

“It is our ultimate goal, of course, to gain the trust of the communities around the park,” said Epstein. “We’ll work really hard to do that.”

In a statement to the Banner, the Emerald Necklace Conservancy said it although the injunction was denied, it has the option to appeal the ruling or take it to court. The Conservancy said it is evaluating its legal options.

“We assert that Franklin Park is protected public land and that includes the George Robert White Trust Schoolboy Stadium,” the statement read. “It is our opinion that if this private taking of public land and public charitable trust land is allowed to happen, it will set a precedent that opens the door to all public land to be taken in the same manner.”