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Updated: June 21, 2021 Focus on Architecture & Construction

Polar Park construction delays limit WooSox revenue in inaugural season


When the Worcester Red Sox started their inaugural season in the city on May 11, the team had to limit capacity at its new stadium to 2,377 fans, due to state-mandated coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

Even though those restrictions were lifted three weeks later, the WooSox still expect to have to limit ticket sales for the bulk of their first season, as the delayed construction of the $160-million Polar Park baseball stadium, which was originally planned for completion in April with a 9,508 capacity, isn’t expected to be finished until near the season’s end.

“For the exact date of when we will be able to sell 9,508 tickets, we don’t yet know,” WooSox President Charles Steinberg said. 

Photo | Matt Wright
Crowds gather outside of Polar Park in 2021, ahead of a Worcester Red Sox home game

For the team’s first game without coronavirus capacity restrictions on June 1, Polar Park was limited to 6,300 seats, which is 66% of the planned full capacity.

Polar Park’s capacity will fluctuate with every game – on June 2, the team had nearly 7,000 fans in attendance – as different parts of the stadium are under construction, Steinberg said, and the stadium will gradually add capacity, too, as various elements of the ballpark are complete.

“I am hopeful we will be at full capacity this year,” Steinberg said.

Delayed construction

The construction of the publicly funded baseball stadium was first announced in August 2018 when the team announced its move from Pawtucket, R.I. for the 2021 season.

The initial timetable to open the stadium in time for Opening Day in April 2021 was aggressive for a project of its size, considering the design plans were still in the initial stages at the time of the announcement and the properties for the stadium had yet to be acquired.

The stadium project – led by Providence-based Gilbane Building Co. and Los Angeles-based AECOM Hunt – encountered two major delays: The slope of the property meant the ballpark had to be built into the side of a hill, which forced changes in the design and the construction. Then the project was shut down for seven weeks in spring 2021 in the face of the spreading coronavirus pandemic.

These delays and other factors like rising construction costs caused the price of the project to jump from $101 million to $160 million, making Polar Park the most expensive minor league stadium ever built.

Photo | SHNS
Worcester Red Sox President Charles Steinberg

Steinberg said the limited capacity caused by the delays is forcing the WooSox to sell fewer tickets than they would have expected.

“It has had an impact,” Steinberg said. “There is a scarcity and a high demand for fewer seats.”

The WooSox have capped full season tickets at 2,200 per game, and the team announced on June 15 its waiting list has more than 400 fans.

“The good news is the fans have been outstanding. We have been playing to a full house, with lots of engagement and lots of kids and lots of diversity,” Steinberg said. “The sound of a ballpark with a lot of kids has its own music.”

Steinberg expects demand for seats to remain strong throughout the inaugural season, particularly as the end of the coronavirus restrictions have enabled more plans for group sales and parents to plan outings for their children once the school year ends.

“Demand for the group venues are as hot as can be right now,” Steinberg said.

The City of Worcester, which is overseeing the project and paying for $88 million of its cost, deferred questions on the construction delays to the team.

Delayed by private development

Another reason for the construction delays and capacity limits, Steinberg said, has been the delays in the construction of the private mixed-use development from Boston firm Madison Properties.

The bulk of that private project, which was announced the same day in August 2018 when the team announced its plans to move to Worcester, was supposed to be complete when the stadium opened, but it has been beset by its own delays.

Specifically, the Left Field Building, a $16-million office building slated to be built immediately off of Polar Park’s left field was initially planned to be constructed simultaneously with the ballpark.

That building is now tentatively slated to open in 2023.

Because the Left Field Building is no longer being built simultaneously, Steinberg said it has delayed the opening of certain elements, particularly The Berm grass gathering-and-seat area.

Denis Dowdle, president of Madison Properties in Boston, who is developing the area around the new ballpark.

Madison has completed the basic underground work on the Left Field Building, which includes a planned 100-space parking garage, which will now allow the rest of the Polar Park stadium construction to proceed, said Denis Dowdle, the developer behind Madison Properties.

Dowdle is waiting to have a tenant lined up for the building, which could host offices or a life sciences company, before proceeding with construction of the upper floors.

Once the tenant is lined up, he said the construction should be complete in about 12 months.

“We are working on lining up a tenant. We swing the bat every day, but who knows when everything will fall into place,” Dowdle said. “We are anxious to try to get going as soon as possible.”

Completing construction

The other four buildings on Dowdle’s private development are a 125-room hotel; a 228-unit residential building; a second residential building tentatively planned for 125 units; and a $11-million lab building.

The tentative completion dates for those buildings remain the same as they were earlier this year, Dowdle said: Starting with September 2022 for the 228-unit residential building; December 2023 for the second residential building; May 2024 for the hotel; and December 2024 for the lab building.

“We are optimistic we are going to keep developing building after building until it is full,” Dowdle said.

At Polar Park, The Berm is the next area slated to open, Steinberg said. The construction crews have to pour the concrete for the Plymouth Street sidewalk which leads to The Berm and then install the grass for the seating area, a process expected to take two weeks.

“We would love for that to happen by the Fourth of July, but we are at the mercy of the mix of construction and weather,” Steinberg said.

After The Berm is completed, the next areas of Polar Park to open will be the Kid Zone, the Plymouth Street Promenade, and the Eighth Hill, all of which will add capacity and gathering areas to the stadium, Steinberg said.

“It is a work in progress, where you are happy to open each new element with each home stand,” Steinberg said.

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