October 16, 2018

10 things we learned about Worcester's PawSox negotiations from reading the city's emails

Photo/Grant Welker
The Madison Street site in Worcester where a ballpark for the Pawtucket Red Sox is planned.

Worcester and Pawtucket Red Sox officials took the secret nature of their talks very seriously. City Manager Ed Augustus traveled to North Carolina to get a look at two modern minor league ballparks. The architect and the developer were involved very early on.

Following the city and the PawSox's announcement of plans to build a $100-million ballpark inside a $240-million development in the Canal District for the team to relocate in advance of the 2021 season, WBJ made a public records request for the email exchanges between city and team officials. Here's what we learned about the nature of those negotiations.

1. The tight-lipped negotiations extended to email exchanges and personal appearances.

The Pawtucket Red Sox brass and Worcester officials weren't just tight-lipped with making sure details didn't leak out during the city's courting of the baseball team.

According to a review of hundreds of pages of email records between the city and the ball club, key players were careful to make sure not too many details weren't put in writing throughout the process, either.

Efforts were made to keep the project under wraps, even after any potential deal was done. Officials might likely have known emails and other correspondence would be subject to public records laws and kept any details out of writing.

One PawSox representative emailed the city in early August in a way that seemed purposely vague: "Can she give you a call this afternoon to discuss yesterday's topic?"

In another email chain, PawSox President Charles Steinberg talks with the city about trying to catch a Worcester Bravehearts baseball game but is concerned, good-naturedly, about being spotted as a PawSox executive. In another, Worcester officials talked about catching a game in Pawtucket as the 2018 season was coming to a close.

"We might have to put you all in the witness protection program though so our local media doesn't see you!" PawSox Senior Vice President for Communications Bill Wanless told them.

2. Talks began early.

Talks between the two sides started very early. In fact, emails reference a meeting from July 2017, which is before the Worcester City Council voted to have City Manager Edward Augustus do what he reasonably could to attract the team to Worcester.

3. Michael Traynor and Nicole Valentine were the principal contacts.

Worcester's chief development officer, Michael Traynor, was heavily involved in the efforts to bring the team to Worcester. Traynor was easily the main contact between the team and the city, followed by Chief of Staff Nicole Valentine, at least when corresponding through email. It's largely been Augustus who has gotten credit publicly for luring the team, but Traynor, who grew up not far from McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, and went to games often as a kid, was the official working most closely with the team.

Image/Courtesy
A rendering of a proposed street leading to a ballpark for the Worcester Red Sox.

4. The architect was involved early on.

Janet Marie Smith, the noted architect of Baltimore's Camden Yards ballpark and modern renovations at Fenway Park, was closely involved throughout much of the process. Worcester is considering architectural firms to design the 10,000-seat ballpark in Worcester's Canal District, but Smith played a role throughout the planning process. Smith used her Los Angeles Dodgers email in exchanges with the city, and according to her team biography, she has overseen improvements to Dodger Stadium since joining the team in 2012. She is the Dodgers' senior vice president for planning and development but lives in Baltimore.

5. The developer was involved early on, too.

Denis Dowdle was involved through much of the process. Dowdle, of Madison Properties in New York City, has proposed building a roughly $100-million, 18-acre mixed-use development just outside the stadium. That project would include 225 market-rate apartments, two hotels of 150 and 110 rooms, 200,000 square feet of office or additional residential space, and 65,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space.

6. The PawSox engaged with 16 companies about sponsorship.

Hanover Insurance Group, MGM Springfield and UMass Memorial Health Care were among the companies the team identified as expressing an interest in providing corporate sponsorship.

7. The deal was coming together in February.

The two sides met on several occasions late last year and first toured the ballpark site together in February. A meeting set up for a date in late February included touring the site and nearby neighborhoods and discussion of project goals from the city, developers and the team.

Photo/Grant Welker
A view of where Polar Park's right field is slated to stand by the 2021 baseball season.

Earlier in February, the two sides appeared to already have good feelings about a potential deal. "Nice to hear your positive impression of today," Traynor wrote to PawSox Executive Vice President and General Manager Dan Rea in one email, adding: "I believe there is a path to a successful deal. We just need to figure the agreed upon route to get to the path's intended destination."

8. The Amazon HQ2 bid helped.

Worcester's long-shot bid for Amazon did come in handy, at least at the start. The city provided to the team a list of the 100 largest Central Massachusetts companies, a list that was pulled from its bid for Amazon's second headquarters.

9. Augustus went to North Carolina to study.

Augustus wanted to see for himself what type of modern downtown ballpark and surrounding neighborhood was envisioned for Worcester. So in April, he traveled to Charlotte to see the Charlotte Knights play at BB&T Ballpark, a downtown park that opened in 2014, and the Durham Bulls, in Durham, N.C., whose Durham Bulls Athletic Park opened in 1995.

10. An announcement could have happened in the spring.

The city and the team began discussing details of an announcement of a deal as early as May. At that point, a deal to stay in Rhode Island may have seemed more likely. Gina Raimondo, the Rhode Island governor, signed a deal to keep the team in Pawtucket in late June. But Worcester officials kept pressing ahead, and by Aug. 17 announced they had reached an agreement to bring the team to Worcester.

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