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Best of 2018, #2: PawSox Announce Worcester Move

New Worcester ballpark concept

We end 2018 with a countdown of the 10 biggest stories of the year on Ballpark Digest, as chosen by editors and partially based on page views. Today, #2: The Pawtucket Red Sox announce a new Worcester, MA ballpark for 2021.

After years of exploring their options for a new ballpark to replace McCoy Stadium, the Pawtucket Red Sox (Class AAA; International League) announced in August that they would move to Worcester, MA in 2021. That decision–which was announced after the team explored proposals to remain in Rhode Island–facilitates a new Worcester ballpark that is touted as the anchor of a larger development initiative.

The PawSox had previously undertaken efforts to remain in Rhode Island through a proposed downtown Providence ballpark that stalled in 2015, and the more recent pursuit of a site in downtown Pawtucket. In January of this year, the Rhode Island Senate passed a plan that called for the Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency to borrow a maximum of $85 million for the proposed Pawtucket ballpark, with the PawSox making a $41 million contribution, the state paying $26 million, and the city allocating $18 million. In addition, the team would pay $12 million after approval of the plan. However, Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, quickly argued that the team needed to pay more, and it was not until months later that a revised funding bill moved forward.

Under the revised funding formula, the PawSox would make a $45 million contribution (plus $12 million after approval of the plan), with the state paying $26 million and the city allocating $18 million. However, the legislation left open several uncertainties, as it withdrew state backing of the bonds and instead put it on the back of bondholders, which was likely to result in higher borrowing rates.

Worcester had been looming as a potential option for the PawSox if a plan to remain in Pawtucket could not come together. Although the specifics of its proposal remained under wraps for some time, it was widely believed that Worcester was pitching a better funding model while offering an enticing location for the ballpark. After much speculation, Worcester and the PawSox confirmed their plans in August, when it was announced that the club would relocate to Worcester and begin play at a new ballpark in 2021.

In the months since, the plan has cleared several hurdles, putting the PawSox and the city on the path to completing a project that could result in new development surrounding the ballpark. Dubbed Polar Park, the ballpark will cost $86-$90 million, and is envisioned as the anchor of an 18-acre, $240 million redevelopment initiative in the city’s Kelley Square/Canal District area. The funding formula for the ballpark calls for the City of Worcester to borrow $100.8 million ($70.6 million in general obligations bonds, $30.2 in bonds backed by team rent payments) to cover construction costs and 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.

Construction on the new ballpark is currently slated to begin next summer, while the PawSox are planning to play the 2019 and 2020 seasons at McCoy Stadium–which is currently the oldest active Triple-A ballpark. When the Worcester ballpark’s opening does roll around, 2018 will be remembered as the year that Worcester reached an agreement with an affiliated minor-league team while the PawSox moved forward with resolving a previously uncertain facility situation.

Here’s our Top Ten of 2018 to date:

Best of 2018, #3: Rays End Ybor City Ballpark Pursuit

Best of 2018, #4: Elmore Sports Group

Best of 2018, #5: Copa de la Diversión

Best of 2018, #6: Wrigley Field Upgrades

Best of 2018, #7: New Portland MLB Ballpark Plan Unveiled

Best of 2018, #8: New Wichita Ballpark Moves Forward

Best of 2018, #9: MLB Embraces Gambling

Best of 2018, #10: SRP Park Opening

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