Legal Terrain

Franklin Park White Stadium Dispute– Epilogue

April 18, 2024


Last month, I posted about a lawsuit brought by a Boston citizens group, the Emerald Necklace Conservancy. The group was seeking to enjoin the City of Boston and other parties from moving forward with a Project to upgrade and expand Franklin Park’s George White Stadium and surrounding areas in the Park for purposes of housing a major league women’s soccer franchise. The case raised interesting questions about the development and use of one of the City’s most beautiful and popular public spaces. On March 22, the Superior Court denied the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction, effectively ending the litigation and allowing the Project to proceed.

In ruling on the plaintiffs‘ injunction request, the Court applied the standards for preliminary injunctive relief analyzing the likelihood of the plaintiff’s success on the merits and evaluating whether irreparable harm would result if no injunction was issued. Regarding success on the merits, the Court rejected the plaintiff’s principal argument that the Project would impermissibly convert the Stadium to private use. The Court stressed that the Will of George White and other foundational documents governing the operation of the Stadium do not require unlimited or exclusive public access. The Court noted that currently, the Stadium and other parts of Franklin Park have restricted public hours for safety and other reasons. The Court concluded that the predominant use of the Stadium would remain public even with the soccer franchise, and the private use contemplated by the professional women’s soccer team is subsidiary to the public purposes.

Regarding irreparable harm, the Court noted that there would be many public meetings and government reviews at various stages of the project to allow for public input into the Project so that the plaintiffs’ concerns about use, parking, noise, traffic and the like can be considered. The Court also concluded that the balance of harms if the project is enjoined cuts in favor of the defendants. The Court noted that an injunction would likely result in the private soccer interests withdrawing from the Project, and therefore, the Stadium, so badly in need of renovation and maintenance, likely would remain in its long-standing dilapidated state.

Even with its short lifespan, the  White Stadium lawsuit generated considerable heat and attention in Boston and provided an interesting window into the complex issues associated with environmental justice. While the plaintiff’s complaint included many references to the negative quality of life the Project would bring to neighborhood residents, other civic groups, commentators, and politicians support the Project. From this observer’s perspective, with the suit now over, one can hope that those opposing the Project can address their concerns in the various public forums as the Project takes shape. This is a moment when all parties still have the opportunity to work together to bring women’s professional soccer to Boston and create a beautiful new stadium that  will serve the city and all its residents for years to come.

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