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January 28, 2021

Free tickets, naming rights & public art: 20 things to know from the city’s WooSox contract

Photo | Grant Welker Polar Park will begin hosting Worcester Red Sox games as soon as April.

The lease for the $157.7-million Polar Park baseball stadium, between the minor league Worcester Red Sox and the City of Worcester, is a long and complex document – 100 pages in all. The lease, which the city approved Jan. 15, will keep the WooSox in the city for at least 25 years, starting with the stadium’s completion this spring.

[Read the Polar Park lease here]

Amid the boilerplate items and legalese – as well as financial terms that have been closely reported upon – here are 20 things to know from the lease:

1. The WooSox are required to hold 125 events per year. With 70 home baseball games, this means the team needs an additional 55 to meet its requirements, such as concerts, festivals or fireworks. They can be smaller, too, like a road race starting or ending at the stadium. This is part of the city’s vision to have the stadium serve as a year-round attraction. (Page 26 of the lease in the linked PDF document)

2. The city will have some of its own use of the ballpark. The city is able to hold up to eight revenue-generating events, which are relied upon in small part to help pay off the project’s costs, as well as 10 community events, such as little league or high school games. (Page 29)

3. Polar Beverages’ naming rights deal on the stadium initially lasts 17 years. The terms of the agreement are not being made public because they’re between two private entities: Polar and the WooSox. Aside from the Worcester manufacturer’s sign along Madison Street and in other places, the shade of blue virtually everywhere – including all playing field walls – matches exactly with the company’s dark blue. (Page 56)

4. Every Worcester resident in any K-12 school will receive one free ticket each year for the first five years, whether they’re in public or private schools. Those tickets can be used at designated “Worcester School Day” games. (Page 33)

5. Art will be a part of Polar Park in some way. The team is required to display local art on the stadium, by working with organizations like POW! WOW! Worcester. The team also is required to set aside space for a bikeshare program, as well as some public access when games aren’t being played. (Page 34)

6. If the team is sold, the new owners have to honor the stadium deal. The city doesn't get approval over any sales of the team. The current ownership dates to 2015. (Page 54)

7. The lease now lasts 35 years, not 30. City officials say a slightly longer lease term was a concession for the city agreeing to borrow $14 million for the latest cost overruns for the stadium, with those costs eventually repaid by the team. (Page 15)

8. The WooSox can leave in 25 years. This was another recent change to the lease, with an opt-out initially at 15 years. If at that point the team decides it wants a new ballpark or a new home city before the 35 years is up, it’ll still be responsible for all its lease obligations. (Exhibit C)

9. The WooSox won’t pay the city the same amount each year. Team owes about $32,000 in lease and other payments for the first year and nearly $178,000 in the second year. The third year starts with payments of $2 million or more, and they keep rising until surpassing $4 million a year in the later stages of the contract. (Exhibit C)

10. Tickets prices must be affordable, although no specific amount is given. The exact language: “Tenant shall use commercially reasonable efforts to ensure that the pricing of tickets for Ballpark Events will be in amounts that provide an affordable recreational activity in the City.” For the inaugural season, the cheapest tickets the team is offering are $8 tickets to children, students, seniors and active military members, and $9 “Teddy Ballgame” tickets for the general public. (Page 33)

Photo | Grant Welker
Polar Park is envisioned as not only a seasonal ballpark but also a year-round facility for events.


11. City is required to do all snow removal from public ways and sidewalks. The team would hope snow removal isn’t a concern during the baseball season, but snowstorms in April or even May do happen, plus the facility is intended to be used year-round. (Page 38)

12. A Ballpark Capital Committee, made up of two representatives each from the city and team, will oversee repairs and upgrades. Creating a capital plan is next on the horizon: it must be completed by the time the ballpark is occupied. Ticket fees will help pay for capital improvements. (Page 40)

13. The WooSox can also pay for their own improvements. Stadiums, even in the minor leagues, often need regular renovations to stay current and keep up on the latest scoreboard technologies, for example. McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, for example, underwent a major renovation a little over two decades ago, yet the team’s new ownership began aggressively seeking a new stadium soon after taking over in 2015. (Page 42)

14. The team gets to keep advertising revenue even outside the ballpark. In addition to keeping all ad revenue inside city-owned Polar Park, the team and the city will split advertising revenue elsewhere. It’s unclear where those other advertising opportunities may be. In one temporary element, the team and the city will split ad revenue where an office building will eventually go, just beyond left field. Once the building is up – construction has begun on the foundation, although the actual building isn't expected to be complete until 2023 – the team will keep all of that revenue. (Page 57)

15. The city hired people to review, process and expedite all the construction documents and permits for the project. (Page 25)

16. The city has committed to $15 million in infrastructure improvements along surrounding streets. As has been reported, the city will repave roads, improve sidewalks and street lights, among other improvements, along two dozen neighborhood streets. The city says state and federal funding will cover most of those costs, and that the work was overdue anyway. Nonetheless, it’s required in the lease, and much of the work has already taken place. The planned work totals $18.2 million. (Page 58)

17. A parking garage must be completed by Dec. 31 of this year. The garage, to be built across Madison Street from the ballpark and funded by a $23-million state grant, was initially supposed to be done a year earlier, at the start of 2021. In the meantime, WooSox fans will have to choose from other lots, particularly at places like the McGrath lot next to the library or the Worcester Common garage once coronavirus restrictions are lifted and large outdoor gatherings are permitted again. (Page 35)

18. If state funding for the parking garage falls through, the city has to build the parking garage anyway. The city has been awarded a MassWorks grant to pay for the entirety of the project, but the contract allows that there’s a chance it won’t come to fruition. In that case, the city still needs to build the $23-million garage. (Page 59)

19. There’s a bit less pressure to finish the ballpark on time. The WooSox and the city had every expectation back in 2018 when they reached their initial agreement the 2021 season would start on time in April. The pandemic, of course, changed that. Despite a roughly seven-week delay in construction last spring during the pandemic’s initial wave locally, construction is expected to be very close to reaching an April 1 deadline. If the city doesn’t finish Polar Park on time, it’ll pay a fine to the team of $120,000 for every home game it was scheduled to play but couldn’t. Another penalty of $56,000 a day now won’t go into effect until Aug. 15, a new component of the lease. With the pandemic in mind, the International League has yet to release a 2021 schedule for the WooSox or any of its teams. (Page 51)

20. More overruns could lead to more trouble — but there’s a cushion. The WooSox agreed to pick up the latest $17 million in overruns, much of which the city will initially borrow for and be paid back later. The team won’t pick up overruns indefinitely, though. There’s a cap of $18 million for such additional costs, leaving $695,207 available for any additional overruns. The project, however, has $3.85 million left in contingency funds remaining for unexpected costs that may pop up in the last few months of construction. If those funds are used up, too, the city and team will then seek alternative funding sources. (Exhibit F)

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly said construction work has yet to begin on the left field office building. The foundation work has begun for that facility, although the physical building isn't expected to be complete until 2023.

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March 1, 2021
I cannot wait to go out to the ballpark and watch a game.
January 28, 2021

Foundation work for the office and the parking garage have already started. This article says the left field building has not been started, but they've been pouring the pile caps for it for weeks. (Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that construction work has begun on these structures.)

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