Wu uses MGM Music Hall for free

MAYOR OF BOSTON Michelle Wu spent $62,000 on her State of the City speech in late January, but there was no cost to actually rent the venue where she delivered her speech.

According to invoices obtained under the state public records law, the mayor’s office of tourism, sports and entertainment spent just over half the money on rented audio equipment, stagehands, event staff and security. The rest went for consultants, desserts, bartenders, DJ, flowers, curtains and flags.

However, the public records request showed no rental payments for the MGM Music Hall venue where Wu delivered his address. Ricardo Patrfromn, a spokesperson for the mayor confirmed that the facility was provided free of charge.

“The city received an offer regarding the use of the facility and accepted it,” he said.

MGM Music Hall is owned by Fenway Sports Group, which also owns nearby Fenway Park and the Boston Red Sox, as well as significant property near the park. The music venue is operated by Fenway Music Company, a joint venture between Fenway Sports Management and national concert promoter Live Nation.

“As a community-focused venue, we were honored to host Mayor Wu at MGM Music Hall for her State of the City address,” Fenway Music Company’s Jay Anderson said in an email. He added that the city is paying “all costs associated with the event.” He did not respond to a query about how much it typically costs to hire the Music Hall for functions.

CommonWealth reached out to others at Fenway Sports Group, but they declined to comment.

Former Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has given at least four of his State of the City addresses at Symphony Hall. Officials there declined to comment on the financial arrangements with Walsh, although a source familiar with the deals said the administration paid him the fair market facility fee to use Symphony Hall.

Fenway Sports Group, whose top executives include JOh Henry (Principal Owner), Thomas Werner (Chairman) and Michael Gordon (President), is involved through another of its subsidiaries, Fenway Sports Real Estate Group, in the development of a major real estate project called Fenway Corners. The company is working with two partners in the venture — WS Development and the D’Angelo family, owners of the Red Sox Team Store across from Fenway Park on Jersey Street. Henry also owns Boston Globe.

The Fenway Corners project will require the approval of the Boston City Planning and Development Agency to build approximately 2 million square feet of office space, retail, restaurants, laboratories and apartments on more than five acres located on four streets around Fenway Park. The project I imagine on closing Jersey Street permanently to vehicles to create a “pedestrian area.” The project area also includes air rights over the Massachusetts Turnpike.

Three people asked about the appropriateness of the Wu administration accepting free access to a facility owned by a company with a business, before the city gave different answers.

Opinions differed on the appropriateness of the Wu administration accepting free access to a facility owned by a company with business before the city.

“With the huge project they have in front of the city, I certainly understand why some would say that Fenway Sports Group not charging the mayor for use of the MGM facility is a conflict of interest,” said Peter Ubertaccio, professor of political science and vice president at Stonehill College. “But it’s really a gray area. It’s possible Fenway Sports Group just wants to show city officials they’re civic-minded.”

Sam Tyler, former president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, doesn’t see it as gray.

“Failure to pay a user fee to MGM Music Hall is a conflict of interest under the circumstances,” he said. “Even the appearance of a conflict of interest would raise questions about the city’s subsequent actions regarding Fenway Sports Group.” The City has deemed it appropriate to pay the associated costs of the State of the City event. So surely he could have just as easily paid the service fee and eliminated any appearance of a conflict of interest.

Delaney Marsko, senior ethics counsel at the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, D.C., a nonpartisan organization that promotes state and local ethics laws, said even the appearance of a conflict of interest should be avoided because citizens must trust their public officials to act in the best interest of the public.

If he were the mayor’s adviser, Marsko said, he would have warned her about accepting free use of the Music Hall. “I would say this to her: If the use of the MGM facility could call into question the appearance of a lack of neutrality on some of the issues that will come before your desk, I would advise you to either pay fair market value for the space or find another space. which does not raise questions of conflict of interest.’

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