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Worcester City Council to Review Ballpark Deal

New Worcester ballpark concept

Over the coming weeks, the Worcester City Council will take a look at the proposed agreement to build a new ballpark to lure the Pawtucket Red Sox (Class AAA; International League). 

Last week, it was announced that the PawSox’s ownership and the city have agreed on a letter of intent to bring the team to a new Kelly Square ballpark. The six-acre ballpark, tentatively named Polar Park, would open for the 2021 season and serve as the centerpiece of an 18-acre, 650,000-square foot mixed-use development.

While the announcement signaled the potential move of the PawSox from Pawtucket, RI to Worcester, MA, it does not mean that the agreement is final. One of the crucial decisions that has to be made for the plan to move forward will come from the Worcester City Council, which has to decide whether to sign off on a more specific lease based on the term sheet. A full council vote is expected by the end of next month, but first the proposal will be considered at public meetings by the council’s Economic Development Committee, with hearings currently scheduled for August 28 and September 5.

Those meetings are part of the lead up to a vote from the full council. Time will tell how the vote plays out, but councilmembers are promising a thorough review of the proposal. Meanwhile, city officials warn that requests for significant changes to the current agreement could extend negotiations and potentially delay the ballpark’s timetable. More from the Telegram & Gazette:

[District 2 Councilor Candy] Mero-Carlson said the council has a history of being fiscally prudent and does not believe it would approve an agreement that is bad for the city, despite the apparent high level of enthusiasm and public support for it.

When asked by Councilor-at-Large Konstantina B. Lukes if the City Council will be able to change, amend or delete any part of the agreement, City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. said the council could reject the deal if it is unhappy with it. But he said no changes could be made to it without renegotiating them with all the parties involved.

He said if his administration was asked to renegotiate elements of the deal it would have a “cascading effect” and likely delay the timetable of having the Red Sox Triple A minor league team begin play in Worcester in 2021.

“There would be a fairly complicated negotiations with the four parties involved to change any elements of this deal,” Mr. Augustus said. “It would significantly impact our ability to deliver this project on time and could lead to unintended consequences. It’s certainly not a done deal but we negotiated (a deal) in the best interests of the city.”

The city council’s decision is one of several steps that remain in the process.  The plan also still needs to be approved by the International League and Minor League Baseball, with Major League Baseball asked if it has any objections.

The total cost of the ballpark is expected to be $90 million, with the city of Worcester borrowing $100.8 million ($70.6 million in general obligations bonds, $30.2 in bonds backed by team rent payments) to cover construction costs and the PawSox owners paying $6 million toward construction. Rent payments are pegged at a little over a million dollars annually, for a total of $30.2 million over 30 years. Worcester officials say increased tax payments generated from the project, including additional development, will cover the difference (a District Improvement Financing area — the Massachusetts equivalent of tax-increment financing — will be set up). Naming rights for Polar Park will come from Worcester’s Polar Beverages.

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