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Businesses Anticipate Proposed Worcester Ballpark

New Worcester ballpark concept

Surrounding businesses are intrigued by the idea of a new Worcester, MA ballpark for the Pawtucket Red Sox (Class AAA; International League), believing that it can expand on existing development. 

Earlier this month, 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.

That proposal is not final at this point, but it is notable in several respects. Along with offering the opportunity for the team to end its years-long search for a replacement to McCoy Stadium, it would give Worcester officials the chance to plan a broader development initiative.  Some development has already taken place in Kelly Square and the Canal District–including the opening of new restaurants over the past several years–but a few nearby business owners see potential in the Polar Park proposal. Not only do they view it as an opportunity to boost existing businesses, but also add to the economic activity that has already unfolded in the area. More from the Telegram & Gazette:

In 2012, Smokestack Urban Barbecue moved from Harding Street to 139 Green St. Three years later, owners Peter Rano and Richard Romaine bought the building. Mr. Rano said many around him were skeptical over his betting so much on an old, dormant district’s revival.

“Now they’re not,” said Mr. Rano, who believes the ballpark will cap a wave of development in the district that can lift not only his business, but the entire neighborhood. Polar Park, he said, will draw far more people than McCoy Stadium did in Pawtucket.

“Pawtucket drew from such a small area compared to where Worcester has the opportunity to draw from,” Mr. Rano said. “MetroWest people weren’t going to Pawtucket. They’re not coming to Worcester now, but maybe they will.”

At the same time, Mr. Rano does not want to just coast. He feels obligated to contribute to the ballpark’s success and expects the same from the other businesses in the district. “All the businesses should be trying to capitalize on the ballpark and push it. And they are: The buzz is bigger than I expected.”

As noted, the potential move of the PawSox from Pawtucket, RI to Worcester is not finalized at this point. The Worcester City Council must sign off on a more specific lease based on the term sheet, and a vote is expected by the end of next month. Additionally, the plan still needs to be approved by the International League and Minor League Baseball, with Major League Baseball asked if it has any objections.

Leading up to the city council’s decision, the economics of the proposal are sure to be debated. Economist Andrew Zimbalist, who worked as a consultant for the city on the proposal, has written a detailed opinion piece for the Telegram & Gazette that casts the financials of the ballpark project in a favorable light. Under the terms of the proposal, the total cost of the ballpark is expected to be between $86 million and $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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