Worcester lands the PawSox
City to build publicly-owned Polar Park as part of $340m development
IN A COUP THAT WAS three years in the making, Worcester officials were able to woo the owners of the AAA Pawtucket Red Sox to move the team into a to-be-built publicly owned and financed $90 million park that will be the cornerstone of a $340 million major redevelopment in the Gateway City.
“Aren’t you proud to live in Worcester today?” Mayor Joseph Petty asked a packed room of supporters in City Hall.
City and state officials joined a celebratory press conference to welcome PawSox chairman Larry Lucchino, who signed a 35-page letter of intent with City Manager Ed Augustus Jr. to move the team to the park sometime after its planned completion in April 2021.
“This is more than a ballpark,” Lucchino said of the development, which is expected to also include two small hotels of 150 and 110 rooms, 50,000 to 60,000 square feet of commercial and restaurant space, 250 units of market-rate housing, a 350-500 space municipal garage, and a renovated Kelley Square. Denis Dowdle, the president of Madison Properties, said his firm would be building the housing, hotels and commercial and restaurant space.
“In essence, the project pays for itself,” Augustus said.
There was no indication what the team would pay to play in its new city, but a city press release indicated there would be lease payments.
Worcester’s deal with the Red Sox affiliate will require the approval of the Worcester City Council as well as the commissioner of Major League Baseball and officials in Minor League Baseball.
A beaming Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, who lives in neighboring Shrewsbury, recounted the months of negotiations with city and state officials and Lucchino’s team to persuade the Pawsox to abandon Pawtucket after more than 45 years to move to the region’s second-largest city, which is undergoing a major transformation.
“Larry, you’re a tough fish to catch, but we got you,” Polito said.
Augustus said the park will be designed by renowned architect Janet Marie Smith, who was in charge of designing the iconic Camden Yards in Baltimore and oversaw much of the renovations at Fenway Park between 2002 and 2010, including the creation of the Green Monster seats and renovated roof seats. Lucchino, the former Boston Red Sox president and CEO, was president and CEO of the Baltimore Orioles when Oriole Park at Camden Yards was built and opened in 1992.
The team is the highest level affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. The move brings the team closer to the Lowell Spinners, some 40 miles away, and could create a split of fans.
Augustus said the park will host 125 events a year. With the International League playing 144 games, the home schedule will have 72, leaving more than 50 other events to be held at the new park. Augustus said there will be concerts, high school and college athletic events, and conventions. He said the park would possibly be used as a polling site for elections. Part of the agreement includes free tickets to a game for Worcester public school students.
Lucchino expressed his appreciation to Pawtucket officials and fans, where the team is expected to play until the new stadium is built. Petty had remarked that he had made initial contact with team officials three years ago to start the ball rolling, but Lucchino pointed out that at that time he had no interest in talking to Worcester.
“I said ‘no, thank you, we are committed to Rhode Island and have an exclusivity with Rhode Island,’” Lucchino recalled about that initial conversation with Petty.
But that commitment waned when the PawSox struggled to get Rhode Island officials to commit to financing a new park either in Providence or Pawtucket. A package eventually emerged from the legislature requiring the team to put up $45 million, with another $38 million coming from special revenue bonds paid for with state and local tax revenues generated by the stadium and other development in the surrounding area.
But the grueling legislative process and lingering opposition in Rhode Island led the team to seriously explore Worcester as an alternative over the last 12 months. Worcester ‘s Canal District Alliance organized an effort to send 10,000 postcards from city residents that included a drawing of a new park to show the team it had strong support in the city. Lucchino said the business community, which he feared would be an obstacle, was overwhelmingly supportive. All the support was not lost on Lucchino, who said his late mother gave him advice that he followed in this situation.
“Why don’t you take your team where’s it’s wanted, where they really very much support you and want to have this ballpark done. Go where you’re wanted, not where there’s controversy and disagreement and opposition. It’s as simple as that,” he said.Rumors of the impending move had been floated for months, fueled in recent weeks by Minor League Baseball officials trademarking the name “WooSox.” Lucchino, in his remarks, talked about his “to-be-named baseball team,” prompting someone in the audience to shout “WooSox.”
“That is one candidate,” said a smirking Lucchino, who clearly isn’t enamored with the sobriquet.