Conservancy group sues city over plans for White Stadium in Boston

BOSTON — A conservancy group and local residents are suing the City of Boston over plans for a new soccer stadium at White Stadium, saying the project “would illegally transfer” public trust lands on the site for private use.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Suffolk Superior Court, aims to halt the “pending privatization” of the George Robert White Fund Stadium, and approximately 3 acres of lands to the south and west of White Stadium that is owned by the White Fund within Franklin Park, according to the lawsuit.

Built in 1945, White Stadium, located in the Playstead section of Franklin Park, seats 10,000 people and is run and used by Boston Public School athletics for sporting events, primarily track and football, according to the Franklin Park Coalition website.

The lawsuit was filed by Emerald Necklace Conservancy Inc., a Massachusetts nonprofit “dedicated to the maintenance, restoration, protection, and improvement for public use of Franklin Park and the other public parks in the Emerald Necklace park system designed by Frederick Law Olmsted,” and 15 people: Jon Ball, Bob Barney, Clarla-Lisa Caligua, Eleanor Chu, Jeff Cook, Louis Elisa, Derrick Evans, Marjorie Greville, Melissa Hamel, Arlene Mattison, Karen Mauney-Brodek, Jean McGuire, Beverly Merz, Ben Taylor and Renee Welch.

The defendants include the City of Boston, the trustees of The George Robert White Fund, Mayor Michelle Wu, Boston City Council President Ruthzee Louijeune, Boston City Auditor Maureen Joyce, Boston Chamber of Commerce President James Rooney, Boston Bar Association President Hannah Kilson and Boston Unity Soccer Partners LLC.

When asked about the lawsuit on Wednesday, Wu said, “These are legal claims without merit.” The mayor discussed the project’s benefits to the community and young student athletes.

“I am determined to make sure that our young people and our student athletes have every opportunity in the world,” Wu said. “Anyone who’s been to the stadium recently can see how much we’re missing out on right now. Half of the grandstands are burned out from a fire years ago, the track is crumbling, it’s not up to state competition standards, and our students deserve a lot more.”

“I’m really excited about the opportunity this represents, bringing in a pro team to help invest in and renovate an existing stadium,” Wu said. “And this would allow us to more than the triple the number of hours that it could be used, and BPS and our community would still be 90 percent of those hours. The soccer team is really just a small portion of how it would actually be used, and so we’re going to continue to work through the details of the design with the community. We’re making good progress and I’m thrilled at the opportunity that this will bring our young people and our families.”

Regarding the lawsuit plaintiffs, Wu said, “They’re flagged some issues that we believe are without legal merit, about whether a space within a park can be used in this way. It’s true that if this were any other park, we couldn’t just build a stadium out of nowhere without any special process for that. But this is an existing stadium, it’s been used by and dedicated to Boston Public School student athletes and it will continue to be used that way, so these are legal claims without merit.”

The plaintiffs are asking the court to “protect the rights” of city residents as beneficiaries of the White Fund Trust “to the continued public use and enjoyment of the Project Site in Franklin Park and as “holders of constitutional rights to public parkland and public active recreation land and facilities under Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution.”

The project site, a portion of Franklin Park, “has been held in trust for over 74 years for the beneficiaries of the White Fund Trust- the residents of Boston,” the lawsuit states.

“In that time, the Project Site has been used as an open space for public recreation, public school sporting events, and numerous music and cultural festivals,” the lawsuit states.

In 2023, the city began discussions with Boston Unity Soccer Partners LLC to undertake a joint venture to redevelop the site as the home for a professional sports team, the lawsuit states.

“The Project, if permitted to go forward, would illegally transfer the public trust lands constituting the Project Site to private parties, ensuring extensive, exclusive use of public trust lands by a private party for the operation of a professional sports team and associated uses,” the lawsuit states.

The White Fund Stadium has “fallen into disrepair and is in need of substantial renovations,” the lawsuit states. However, the city has “failed to consider any alternatives to the project all while rapidly pushing forward the Project and ignoring the terms of the White Fund Trust and the requirements of Article 97,” the lawsuit states.

The project as proposed “would not only violate the White Fund Trust and Article 97 by transferring public trust land to private use and excluding members of the public from the project site, “it would fundamentally alter the nature and feel of a significant portion of” Franklin Park “during the majority of fair weather weekends each year,” the lawsuit states.

According to the lawsuit, Boston Unity Soccer Partners LLC proposes to host at least 20 home games on Saturdays between April and November, “causing a rapid influx of over 10,000 people on those days” and radically changing the public open space of Franklin Park, well beyond the boundaries of the project site, for a huge portion of summer weekend days.

That does not factor in additional use of the site, including for soccer practice on Friday evenings, the lawsuit states.

“The Project is progressing at an alarming speed, without many of the required elements of oversight and review expected for a development of this size and scale,” the lawsuit states.

If allowed to continue, the project “will cause irreparable harm to Franklin Park, to the White Fund Trust, and its beneficiaries, the people of Boston, including the residents of the Environmental Justice Communities in Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan and Jamaica Plain surrounding Franklin Park,” the lawsuit states.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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