The reception, held at the tony Back Bay restaurant Via Matta, was to be a grand homecoming for Frank H. McCourt Jr., the former Boston businessman who sold 24 acres of scrubby seaport parking lots to become owner of the storied Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Dodgers were playing at Fenway Park in late June 2010, giving McCourt a chance to show off the team to local politicians and former colleagues, who mingled with slugger Manny Ramirez and other members of the California franchise. As McCourt swapped stories and recalled old times, the reception offered a brief respite from his bitter divorce in Los Angeles and a brewing battle over ownership of the team.
“For whatever difficulties he was going through at the time, it wasn’t evident to the rest of us, and certainly nobody brought it up,’’ said Vivien Li, a longtime McCourt acquaintance who attended the party.
Beneath the surface of the glitzy event, a stunning reversal was unfolding that now has McCourt in a desperate struggle to retain control of the financially troubled Dodgers, while the old parking lots he traded away are poised for a $3 billion redevelopment expected to reinvent a huge swath of the city’s waterfront.
John B. Hynes III, the developer who acquired the property following McCourt’s exit, plans to begin construction next year on a massive complex of buildings that will include hundreds of new residences, a hotel, and shopping complex the size of Copley Place, with cinemas, restaurants, and stores.
McCourt – stalled by economic downturns and poor relations with City Hall – swapped one of the city’s greatest development opportunities for a fleeting chance at glory in California, where he is accused of driving one of baseball’s most venerable franchises into a financial abyss.
“Frank could have cashed out on the opportunity he created on the waterfront and just rode off into the sunset,’’ said Michael Vaughan, a former official at the Boston Redevelopment Authority. “He went all in and bought the Dodgers. I think he was always well intentioned, it just got away from him.’’
McCourt and his ex-wife, Jamie, declined to be interviewed, but issued separate statements wishing luck to the new owners of the seaport property.
Since buying the team, McCourt’s life on the West Coast has been a study in excess and scandal. He bought several multimillion-dollar properties – including two homes across from the Playboy Mansion – and then became enmeshed in one of the most expensive divorces in California history, splitting with his wife and longtime business partner.