By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
These battles made McCourt's reputation as a fearsome opponent. But being a successful developer requires, at some point, a spirit of cooperation. And that wasn't his strength.
"This is not the kind of permanent partner I wanted to be involved with," says Chase, a Holocaust survivor and philanthropist. "I did not need that. I'd rather have no relationship than have a relationship that will be problematic in the future."
Chase says he was bought out for pennies on the dollar.
"He forgot what we did for him," Chase adds. "Without us, he could not have had the property."
McCourt had been a nobody in the Boston real estate world. But when the ruling was issued in the CC&F case, on January 26, 1987, granting him title to what became known as the Seaport property, his days of hustling and begging were over.
Now, suitors came to him. Among the first to approach was the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
The city of Boston had visions of a redeveloped South Boston waterfront, with retail, midrise condos, hotels, cultural institutions and a convention center. The city wanted McCourt and other private landowners in the area to work in concert to achieve the plan.
But McCourt's role would have to wait, because the state Department of Highways had an even bigger plan: the Big Dig — a $14 billion project to tunnel through the heart of Boston. The city also had to realign the streets to make way for development, while the local transit authority wanted to build an underground busway to Logan International Airport. All of that required borrowing or taking slices of McCourt's land.
CC&F had turned the rail yard into a parking lot, and when McCourt took over he found himself the proprietor of a profitable business. With about 3,000 spaces, the lot generated almost $4 million in annual profits by 2004.
Starting in 1991, the Department of Highways borrowed 12 acres for a period up to eight years, and took another seven acres in exchange for other parcels. For his troubles, the state also paid McCourt about $30 million.
But he sued, arguing that the true costs for lost parking revenues and delays to his plans to develop the property were much higher, perhaps as much as $140 million.
McCourt hired the top eminent-domain firm in the city, and the best lobbyists. In a settlement reached in 1997, the government agreed to pay an additional $57.5 million — bringing the total from the state to $87.5 million. In return, McCourt agreed to pay $25 million to help build an underground bus station. Even so, he made $62.5 million from the state.
It was the costliest eminent-domain settlement on the costliest highway project in U.S. history.
The figure is staggering considering that McCourt got most of his land back, along with some new parcels that were awarded in land swaps. With the streets newly laid out and ready for development, the land was more valuable than when it was taken from him.
Most of the land the state borrowed was never even used for its intended purpose, as a staging area for construction of the Ted Williams Tunnel. This drew sufficient attention to provoke an outcry from Sen. John McCain, who grilled Big Dig officials about it at a Senate hearing in 2000.
"It seems to me that somebody made a very nice windfall of about $50 million, got the property back, which is remarkable," McCain said. "I know real estate prices are quite high in Massachusetts, but $50 million for a vacant lot, it seems to me, is a little bit extravagant."
Even though McCourt was handsomely compensated for being denied the ability to develop the property, once he did have an opportunity, he was unable to build. He presented a series of designs over the years, but none materialized. He fought with neighboring landowners and city planners, and seemed never to find a plan that lived up to his vision.
By 2006, Mayor Thomas Menino got so fed up with the lack of progress toward developing the land that his administration threatened not to renew the parking permits.
Shortly thereafter, McCourt transferred the property to Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. to pay off a loan that helped him buy the Dodgers. Murdoch sold the land in turn to a developer, who is still trying to build something there. For now, it's still a parking lot.
To date, probably the biggest project McCourt has built is Camelback Ranch — the new Dodgers spring-training facility in Arizona. But he didn't actually build it. The taxpayers of Glendale, Arizona, did, for $150 million.
Lately there are troubling signs that it was a very bad investment — though not for Frank McCourt.
A few months before they separated in July 2009, the McCourts were named "Power Couple of the Year" by the Los Angeles Business Journal. The accompanying profile was fairly glowing. They were hailed for their business acumen and their civic leadership.
But there were also hints of trouble.
"Within their marriage, the McCourts have a simple method for resolving conflicts," wrote Business Journal reporter Joel Russell. "They keep arguing until one side gives up."
This was perhaps the first public indication that the implacable McCourt business style also applied to the McCourt marriage.