‘Defenders’ press White Stadium legal challenge

Jean Maguire spoke at a Tuesday press conference next to Stacey Welch.

Taking on the title of Franklin Park “Defenders,” 20 citizens and the Emerald Necklace Conservancy (ENC) announced Tuesday they plan to move ahead with a lawsuit challenging the re-development of White Stadium in Franklin Park for part-time use by a women’s professional soccer team.

The lawsuit, which includes long-time activists Louis Elisa and Dr. Jean Maguire, was dealt a defeat in March when Judge Sarah Ellis denied their request for injunction and temporary restraining order to prevent the city of Boston from moving forward or starting construction work at the stadium. However, the Franklin Park Defenders, who gathered in front of the North Gate at White Stadium on Tuesday afternoon, say they will continue with the underlying legal challenge on the grounds it violates the Public Lands Protection Act (Article 97) and the George Robert White Fund Trust.

“This park is a symbol of what is right about Boston,” said Maguire, who was attacked and stabbed by an unknown suspect in 2023 only yards away from the spot where she spoke Tuesday. “We need to keep the things that are right about Boston in place. These trees breathe…This place needs to be kept for all of us forever.”

Elisa, who is president of the Garrison-Trotter Neighborhood Association, noted there is a great deal of distrust of the plan because important details have yet to be shared. In the face of that, he said the community is rallying to defend the park as they did when the city abandoned it in the 1980s.

“I’m a member of the defenders of Franklin Park and not just White Stadium, but the whole park because all of Franklin Park is under siege by them because they want to slip all kinds of things here and there from the west to the north to the east side of this park,” he said.

“We have the city’s word, but we also have 35 years of their willful neglect as well,” he said.

Jamaica Plain activist Renee Stacey Welch said she grew up near the park on Montebello Road and continues to find peace and solace there – something she fears will be taken away by the professional sports franchise and, perhaps, other events.

“Today we fight to preserve our lives and our memories we’ve had here,” she said, leading off the press conference and getting a little emotional. “We are not saying we don’t want an improved Franklin Park and renovated White Stadium. We do. But not with a for-profit professional soccer team…The city has a long history of leaving our children behind and this is another way of doing that.”

Renee Stacy Welch, of Jamaica Plain, said the Franklin Park Defenders will proceed with a lawsuit that seeks to stop the re-development of White Stadium. Seth Daniel photo

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Louis Elisa, a co-founder of the Franklin Park Coalition, said the city has given them their word, but that word isn’t worth much after 35 years of willful neglect of Franklin Park and White Stadium.

Roxbury’s Derrick Evans, also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said they are standing up for schoolchildren, residents, and those who have tried to review the project – including the Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) whose concerns about White Stadium were made public this week by the Reporter through an letter to the mayor about not following the state laws governing the commission.

“I’m here to stand up against Wu tyranny,” he said. “I’m here to stand up for the Boston Landmarks Commission and their director who just on Friday was fired as the director.”

ENC President Karen Mauney-Brodek said the next steps in the lawsuit will probably be discovery and fact-finding.

“There still isn’t information about whether there are events in addition to the soccer games that would take place and even how profits would be shared,” she said. “In the end, though, this case is about self-determination and the community being able to decide what they want.”

She added that a key part of the suit revolves around Article 97, which she maintained applies to the project since the beginning of review meetings in January – something the city disagrees with. She also said they believe the city needs to go through state environmental reviews, known as MEPA. She also said she believes a full BLC process needs to be followed. The suit is pending in Suffolk Superior Court’s civil division.

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