As many neighbors are aware, the city is planning a major expansion of White Stadium in partnership with Boston Unity, a professional women's soccer franchise.
I am concerned about the planning process, which has not weighed the merits of the proposal as a whole, but has focused on tweaks around the edges. In particular, there has been no conversation about the design of Franklin Park and the role the stadium plays in the park. The city spent a lot of money and hundreds of hours creating a thoughtful, thorough plan for Franklin Park, the Franklin Park Action Plan. The public meeting to discuss how this current stadium proposal integrates (or doesn't) with that plan is coming on February 12, after the Article 80 review and the public comment period is closed. This is not the recipe for a project that is thoughtfully integrated into the park. The plans for the East Stands, which will be significantly different from what is currently there, have not yet been released: this is a huge question mark. We need to know and see the full scope of the plan before approving it.
I would like to see the city engage with an alternative design proposal, focused on the needs of Boston Public Schools and city residents. This partnership cannot be the one option on the table. We need to step back and ask the question, "Do the needs of BPS and the city align with the needs of a professional sports team?"
I support the idea of renovating White Stadium, but this plan is a significant expansion that will create a facility that is not well-integrated within Franklin Park. This plan is instead designed around the needs of a professional sports team (and private interest), not the needs of Boston's public school students and residents. And yet, the city will pay more than half of the bill for this project.
The Franklin Park Action Plan laments how the park has been chopped up and divided. The Action Plan calls for making White Stadium less divided from the Playstead at large. It recommends opening it up by removing fencing, increasing access, and making it visually more open. In contrast, this plan will make it far more cut off and inaccessible: physically, visually, and experientially. As proposed, the stadium will be fully enclosed and far more massive than it currently is. 11,000 stadium-style seats is not what BPS needs.
This plan will also have repercussions for other design elements of the park (entrances, pathways, roadways, etc). This isn't a restoration of White Stadium, it's a major expansion, with all the specs dictated by the needs of a professional sports team. I would like to see Boston build a stadium oriented exclusively toward the needs and desires of BPS students and Boston park users. A partnership could work, but not one with such poor alignment with BPS and public interests.
If the city proceeds with this partnership with Unity, I do also have some suggestions. First, the "Grove" describes a space that overlaps in many ways with the vision for the Elma Lewis Playhouse (outdoor flexible space with a stage/screen at one end) and building both right next to each other makes no sense. The whole point of having a master plan would be to avoid such duplication and incoherence. But there hasn't been any discussion about the overall design of Franklin Park.
Secondly, the stadium should provide publicly accessible bathrooms, 7 days a week. Bathrooms were a major recommendation of the Franklin Park Action Plan, and including bathrooms in the Stadium would help make it a public resource for all, not just a professional stadium that happens to be in a public park.
Third, there needs to be very careful planning about the pathways and roadways within the park. Plans have shown shuttle buses going through park entrances that have been intentionally closed to traffic and re-designed around pedestrians. Even if shuttles only drive through these routes occasionally, the need to accommodate shuttles could have major implication on the "feel" of the park (more pavement, less inviting, less safe for toddlers on bikes, etc.). As the Franklin Park Action plan points out repeatedly, these design features matter a great deal.