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April 28, 2021

City Council approves Polar Park oversight board

Photo | Grant Welker Polar Park's main seating area from the first base sideline

The Worcester City Council has signed off on a new oversight board for Polar Park after a long struggle between the council and the city administration over exactly how the city-owned $160-million baseball stadium should be managed.

The council approved the new board on Tuesday, exactly two weeks before Polar Park opens for its first Worcester Red Sox game. The body is envisioned by City Manager Edward Augustus, who will appoint its members, as a group of people who would decide on relatively minor matters such as use by other entities or financial updates.

Big-ticket items such as stadium repairs would still go before the City Council. But councilors expressed concern until Tuesday in giving up oversight power of the $160-million ballpark to a board of volunteers whose actions they'd be unable to control or influence. Councilor Donna Colorio asked, for example, about potentially removing members who go rogue.

"This is a project that people want to go 100% right, and there's a lot of pressure on it," Colorio said, describing the stadium as partially a reflection on city councilors. "We don't want it in the hands of others that — it may not go right."

Colorio ended up approving the creation of the commission, along with eight of her colleagues. Two others, Khrystian King and George Russell, voted against it.

Russell cited concerns about a lack of representation from each of the city's voting districts on the board, and King said he prefered having faith in oversight to the city administration. King alluded to a news report by GBH in early April finding less than 1% of stadium construction contracts went to certified minority-owned businesses, far less than what had been reported to the Worcester Redevelopment Authority, the city body that's most closely watched the stadium construction process.

"The WRA had some challenges recently when it came to oversight," King said.

Augustus, who first proposed the commission early last fall, was taken aback by resistance from the council.

"This has become much more complicated than I thought it would," he said Tuesday night.

Augustus has compared the Polar Park board to a similar one that reviews operations and oversees relatively minor facility-use decisions at the city-owned DCU Center. The commission wouldn't take any larger-picture or major financial decisions away from the council, he said, and would offer more transparency than if the city manager's office were to approve such matters itself. Augustus said the board would be ultimately accountable to him but that he wouldn't remove any members for making decisions he disagreed with.

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This is a public job and in order to be able to perform in this project, you have to be certified by the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance. So if the minority businesses that were trying to work in this project were not certified by the state, they should become certified to do public work!
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