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Polar Park still on schedule; development terms change

Polar Park

Work continues on Polar Park, future home of the Worcester Red Sox (Class AAA; International League), but the development surrounding the downtown facility has changed in the face of the current COVID-19 economy.

Polar Park is scheduled to open in April 2021, with construction approximately 50 percent completed. Despite some construction hiccups due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that opening date still holds. The team announced last week that capacity for Polar Park would be 9,508—echoing the 508 area code assigned to the Worcester area. Capacity is an arbitrary number, of course: there is a specific number of fixed seats at any ballpark, but capacity just mean how many fans you can cram into a facility. In this case, assigning a 9,508 capacity is just inspired marketing. Also announced: a Fan Dugout holding groups up to 20 fans, situated next to the WooSox dugout, in a move that appears to an homage to the dugout seating at the team’s former home, McCoy Stadium.

The other news related to Polar Park last week, however, related to development outside the ballpark, as the ballpark is just one part of a larger $240-million redevelopment. There have been other adjustments since the initial redevelopment plan was unveiled, and the news this past week had to do with the downsizing of a hotel and a parking lot, along with an adjustment of competition dates for private development.

We’re not talking huge delays in the completion of private development: one to two years. But in this round no private development has been canceled—but the delays do affect when the city can expect revenue from delayed projects. Potential delays were already built into the $130-million ballpark financing plan, and as of now there will be no need for Worcester to dip into general funds to cover shortfalls. From the Worcester Telegram:

“The North Star for which this project has continually been premised, that the ballpark will pay for itself, continues with this recommendation,” said [City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr.]. “The city’s pro forma for the District Improvement Financing District has been updated to reflect these changes.

“The biggest impact of the amendment on the pro forma is in the first few years due to the delay development schedule,” he added. “However, through updates to the debt repayment schedule, grant funds and new development, the city has sufficient funding to offset any delays in the early years. Overall, the pro forma is still healthy and shows a considerable return on investment for the city of Worcester over the 30-year life of the (ballpark) bond.”

The city also took a proactive step in selling properties in the ballpark area for $5 million, building up a reserve to cover shortfalls and delays. Eventually the development of these properties will contribute to the area tax base, as will a newly planned development in the area.

The lesson: big development projects have plenty of moving parts, and these parts won’t always work together smoothly. But with careful planning and conservative revenue estimates, the impact of major events like the COVID-19 pandemic can be minimized.

Photo courtesy Polar Park.

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