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Economy & Business

For 22 Years, Boston Arena Broke Promise To Hold 3 Fundraisers A Year


A classic David and Goliath story is playing out in Boston. A group of inner-city teens are facing off against the corporate giant that owns the Boston Bruins and their home arena, the TD Garden. NPR's Tovia Smith reports.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: From the get-go, these teens say, their goal of a $20 million ice rink and rec center in one of the city's neediest neighborhoods felt like a long shot. Kids like 17-year-old Shayne Clinton were literally cold calling companies asking for donations and hoping for a miracle.

SHAYNE CLINTON: It's like shooting a half-court shot backwards.

SMITH: Not surprisingly, the kids were having a hard time scoring. That is, until a neighborhood old-timer remembered something about the law enabling construction of the Boston Garden. The owners were supposed to have three fundraisers a year to benefit community rec centers. So the teens, including Jonah Muniz and youth organizer Ken Tangvick went digging.

JONAH MUNIZ: Oh, my God. When we found the clause, it was a shocker.

KEN TANGVICK: And we just stared at it. And we kept reading it over and over and over and was saying, does it say what we think it says?

SMITH: It did, but the real shock was yet to come.

MUNIZ: Oh, my God, the eureka moment when we finally received the letter saying TD Garden has officially raised no money for fundraisers. Swish. Three-pointer (laughter).

SMITH: A game-changer. So last week, TD Garden announced a deal with the state to pay up - just over a million and a half dollars - and congratulated the teens. But they weren't celebrating.

LORRIE PEARSON: That doesn't work for us. It's nothing. And that's just so insulting.

SMITH: By their math, students like Lorrie Pearson figure three fundraisers a year for 22 years plus interest and penalties comes to nearly $14 million.

PEARSON: So we're not going to stop. We're not going to stand for it. And we're not going to just be pushed around.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) We don't think it's very funny.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Jeremy Jacobs, where's the money?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) We don't think it's very funny.

SMITH: The kids protested outside TD Garden. Today, they'll rally at the statehouse. And they've been plotting legal strategy with advisor Ken Tangvick.

TANGVICK: And I think our message to the attorney general is, are you going to accept this ridiculous 1.65 number or are you going to do your job and enforce the law?

SMITH: But ridiculous is not exactly how TD Garden sees it. The owners declined to comment for this report, but in a statement, they say they give some $2 million a year to various charities. They based their one and a half million dollar settlement on what they raised from one of their community events and then tripled it just as a gesture of good faith. But the teens insist they're being low-balled. And philanthropy expert Elizabeth Ziegler with Graham-Pelton Consulting says they make a good case.

ELIZABETH ZIEGLER: I think we can assume that the fundraisers wouldn't be little student-run bake shops. These events would draw celebrities that would be commensurate with the brand of TD Garden and the sports teams.

SMITH: You could say the teens have already won with a priceless lesson about civic activism. Indeed, several, like Mabel Gondrez, are scrambling to rewrite their college application essays.

MABEL GONDREZ: Yeah. I'm going to write about just standing my ground with TD Garden and still trying to chase that dream. We're not going to give up at all.

SMITH: But for others, like Jonah Muniz, the lessons are a little less inspirational.

MUNIZ: The reality check for me is like higher powers, be careful with them definitely.

SMITH: Lorrie Pearson's takeaway is that the state could strike a deal for its citizens and then promptly forget about it for decades.

PEARSON: That doesn't make me want to work in government.

SMITH: But a career in community activism, Pearson says, maybe. Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: August 16, 2017 at 11:00 PM CDT
An earlier version of this headline stated that the Boston arena broke a fundraising promise for 24 years. It was 22 years.