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High funding request may doom LeLacheur Park upgrades

Lowell SpinnersBaseball may return to Lowell in the future, but given the Boston Red Sox’s high funding request for LeLacheur Park upgrades, it’s unlikely affiliated ball would return any time soon–or ever.

When MLB contracted MiLB, the original Lowell Spinners were contracted out of the Short Season A NY-Penn League, but the Red Sox soon after entered into talks to bring an affiliated team to the market. Talks between the city and the team centered on using American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for LeLacheur Park updates so the ballpark would meed the new MiLB facility guidelines.

But the Red Sox ended up asking more than just upgrades, with a request that ended up a lot closer to $40 million–even more than what was predicted by a local councillor–from an original cost estimate of $10 million, with the city and state using ARPA funds. That did not go over too well with Lowell officials, who do have some alternatives, including an independent Atlantic League team or a new Futures League summer-collegiate team, potentially helmed by former Spinners owner Drew Weber. Talks are taking place at the MLB level over a course of action; MLB, as you’ll recall, pledged funds to keep professional baseball in abandoned markets, which could be the case here.

So the potential return of the MiLB Spinners, as of now, is dead, even though the Red Sox are publicly keeping their options open. It does not look like the Red Sox will contribute to funding renovations, and local officials reportedly saying it would cost $6 million just to reopen the facility–never mind MLB-mandated upgrades–the numbers may not make sense even if the Red Sox return. In terms of PR, the use of ARPA funds for ballpark upgrades has been criticized in other markets. (Indeed, spending ARPA money on sports facilities has specifically been discouraged by federal officials unless it’s related to renovations to directly address COVID concerns, as detailed on pages 194-195.) From the Eagle Tribune:

“We’ve had conversations with the state of Massachusetts and the city of Lowell on and off for a couple of years,” Kennedy said during an interview in the Yankee Stadium visitors dugout prior to Friday’s season opener. “We don’t have any specific plans to come back there with an affiliated team right now but we never rule anything out in the future.”

University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan has also expressed support for bringing a Red Sox affiliate to Lowell, saying it would help with the university’s plans to develop the surrounding East Campus area, and Rep. Lori Trahan, D-Westford, said she’s grateful for the efforts each stakeholder has put in to help bring the return of professional baseball closer to reality.

“We’ve made strong progress over the past few months thanks to these stakeholders who are stepping up to the plate to keep Red Sox-affiliated baseball here in the Merrimack Valley,” Trahan said in a statement. “Fans across the region are grateful for the commitment from the Sox to maintain the storied history of minor league baseball in Lowell, and our work to make that a reality continues.”

Still, city officials make pretty clear the chances of the Spinners returning go down as the price of ballpark upgrades go up unless the Red Sox kick in. Which is a dead-end topic as of now.

RELATED STORIES: Decision on LeLacheur Park looming for Lowell; Lowell: Is pro baseball worth millions in ballpark upgrades?Red Sox working to bring MiLB back to LowellRed Sox: We’ll fight to keep baseball in LowellFight to Save Lowell Spinners Goes NationalContraction in Flux, as Lowell Spinners May Escape Dream League

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