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Departments: Statistically Significant

A ballpark assessment

BY: Bruce Mohl and Jack Sullivan
Issue: Fall 2010
can you believe it? Fenway Park, America’s most beloved ballpark, home to the Green Monster and Pesky’s Pole, and sacred ground to Red Sox Nation, is worth less than some Boston parking garages. Mercy!

The assessed value of Fenway Park has risen dramatically since John Henry’s ownership group bought the Red Sox in 2002 and began fixing up the ballpark. But even with a 52 percent increase in value, Fenway’s property tax bill is still less than what developer Don Chiofaro pays on his Harbor Garage near the New England Aquarium.

According to city records, Fenway’s assessed value was $26.5 million in 2002. Eight years and $200 million in improvements later (funded in part by federal and state historic rehabilitation tax credits), the value was $77 million. The property taxes are $2.26 million annually.

By contrast, the Harbor Garage, which is less than a fifth the size of Fenway, is assessed at $5 million more, or a total of $82.5 million. The garage’s property tax bill is nearly $200,000 more than what Henry and his group pay at Fenway.

Was someone at City Hall giving the Old Towne Team a break on its property taxes? Boston’s assessor, Ron Rakow, says nothing is amiss. He says property tax assessments are based strictly on the value of the real estate.

At Harbor Garage, that value is determined by analyzing the income from renting parking spaces and also reviewing what other garages in the area sell for. Fenway Park isn’t so easy. Rakow says it’s one of about a dozen properties in Boston that are unique and difficult to assess.

Rakow says his staff reviews confidential income data from the team and then decides what portion of each income stream is due to the business (the team itself) and what portion is due to the ballpark (the real estate). “Take the Red Sox out and what’s [Fenway] worth,” he says, summing up the challenge.

Revenue from a TV contract, for example, would be attributable primarily to the team. But a significant chunk of the revenue from tours of the park, concerts, weddings, and billboards around the stadium can be attributed to Fenway.
Assessing the value of Fenway seems to be more art than science, but the Red Sox don’t seem to mind. According to Rakow, the team hasn’t challenged its assessment.

most professional sports venues around the country are either publicly owned or heavily subsidized, so their property tax assess­ments are nonexistent or skewed. But the Massachusetts facilities are all privately owned, so it’s easy to compare them. Surprisingly, they all pay about the same, either in taxes or in-lieu-of-tax payments.

The TD Garden, home to the Boston Celtics and the Boston Bruins, was exempt from property taxes until fiscal 2009 and instead made a smaller, alternative payment under a 121A exemption designed to encourage economic development. Since fiscal 2009, however,  the property has been taxed like any other commercial property in the city. Its assessed value is currently $68 million and its annual tax bill is just under $2 million.

Gillette Stadium in Foxborough also pays about $2 million, but not in the form of property taxes. Randy Scollins, Fox­borough’s finance director, says the town owns the land underneath the stadium under an arrangement set up in the early 1970s to help lure the NFL team to the area. The town continued that arrangement by swapping the old stadium footprint for the land under Gillette Stadium when it was built earlier this decade.

Under the arrangement, the Patriots make in-lieu-of-tax payments to the town funded by ticket fees paid by fans. Foxborough receives $1.42 for every ticket sold to soccer and football games and $2.46 for every ticket sold to concerts and other special events.
Scollins says the ticket fees are likely less than what the town would receive if the stadium paid property taxes, but he says it’s an arrangement that has worked well, particularly since the Kraft family has opened Patriot Place near the stadium, adding significantly to the town’s tax base.

Fenway Park
Property tax — $2.3 million
2010 assessment — $77 million
Square feet – 331,219
Building value — $59.9 million
Land value — $17.2 million

Harbor garage
Property tax — $2.4 million
2010 assessment — $82.4 million
Square feet – 57,346
Building value — $72.4 million
Land value — $10 million

gillette stadium
Property tax – Not applicable
In-lieu-of-tax payment — $2 million

td garden
Property tax — $1.99 million
2010 assessment — $68 million
Square feet – 166,550
Building value — $61 million
Land value — $6.98 million
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