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.

Financial details were scarce, and officials indicated they were keeping the letter of intent private for the moment. The state is expected to kick in at least $35 million for new street work, housing incentives, and the garage. Augustus said the cost of the new stadium will be paid for with bonds financed by revenues from lease payments, parking, advertising, and incremental tax growth (hotel and property taxes etc.) in the area surrounding the park.

“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.

Lucchino also announced the park would have a Worcester flavor. Worcester-based Polar Beverages bought the naming rights for an undisclosed sum. The park will be named Polar Park, which will be built on the former Wyman-Gordon site in the city’s Canal District, not far from downtown and a short distance from Interstate 290. Polito said the state will build a new access road to the area to accommodate the planned development.

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.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

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.