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July 11, 2019

WooSox, officials celebrate ceremonial groundbreaking of $101M Polar Park

Photo | Courtesy An artist's sketch of Polar Park
Photo | Courtesy An artist's rendering of Polar Park
Photo | Courtesy An artist's rendering of Polar Park

By this time in 2021, the overgrown lots at the former Wyman-Gordon property should be replaced by baseball players and thousands of fans. 

The city, Pawtucket Red Sox and local and state officials Thursday held a ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony at the site of the future Polar Park, named after Worcester’s Polar Beverages, which will be the home of the soon-to-be-Worcester Red Sox. 

Standing in what will be left field, public officials and team executives spoke about how the team was lured to Worcester from its longtime home in McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket. 

According to Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty, the idea was first hatched decades ago by previous administrations, but nothing ever moved forward.  More recent city officials have told WBJ that the city’s courtship of the team goes back about 15 years. 

“We all know this is a day that has been years in the making,” Petty said. 

Speaking from a wheelchair, Canal District Alliance President Eugene Zabinski spoke about how his idea to send postcards to the team urging them to consider Worcester helped spark an overall $240-million redevelopment project. 

His campaign to organize local support to bring the team here resulted in 10,000 postcards from Canal District residents and business owners being sent to Chairman and owner Larry Lucchino. 

“Nobody believed it would happen,” Zabinski said. “This is a pipe dream.”

Photo | Zachary Comeau
City, state and Pawtucket Red Sox officials participate in a ceremonial groundbreaking of Polar Park in 2019.

Those efforts, which began around late summer 2017, came full circle about a year later, when the city and team announced plans for a $101-million ballpark in August. 

The city is borrowing the full amount for the project. The team will put up $6 million in upfront equity and about $1 million in annual rent over 30 years will be used to pay off the park. 

To finance the rest, the city is partnering with Boston developer Denis Dowdle, who is planning a mixed-use development of 250 market-rate apartments, two hotels totaling 250 rooms, a 96,000-square-foot office building beyond left field, 65,000 square-feet of retail and restaurant space and a new 500-plus space parking garage.

Tax revenue from that development will be used to pay off the project. 

Dowdle, pointing to what will be the left field wall, referred to the office building planned for the space to overlook the field and a streetscape inspired by Jersey Street at Fenway Park in Boston, home to the team’s Major League Baseball affiliate Boston Red Sox. 

“This is really a unique situation where everyone is at the table working together cooperatively,” he said. 

The team’s official business entity will be the Worcester Red Sox, but like the team goes by the PawSox in Rhode Island, the team’s nickname in Worcester could be different. Team officials have not yet said what that identity will be. 

Photo | Zachary Comeau
Official Polar Park merchandise was available at the groundbreaking ceremony.

The ballpark’s name, however, is not up for debate. Polar Beverages has secured naming rights for the property.

Polar will now become even more intertwined with the team, as President and CEO Ralph Crowley is joining part of the team’s ownership group, Lucchino announced. 

Janet Marie Smith, a ballpark architect who has worked with Lucchino on several minor and major league ballparks, said the team was excited about the opportunity to join a city that has already begun redevelopment projects without an organization as large as the Red Sox. 

“When we first looked at this, we realized we were not being asked to build a ballpark to jumpstart redevelopment,” Smith said. “This is really something that made us feel like we were jumping on a moving train.”

She commented on the unique elevation challenges of the site. A person entering the ballpark from Madison Street will be at field level, while a person walking in from left field will be at an upper level. 

The ballpark will be able to hold 10,000 fans, but in response to changing baseball norms, only have about 6,500 seats.

The rest will be “very elastic, wonderful areas to cater to families,” Smith said. 

According to a deal signed between the city and team, baseball is expected to begin play at the ballpark in 2021. Lucchino, speaking on common questions asked about the ballpark, said there will inevitably be bumps in the road. 

“To be clear, we do not promise you a perfect ballpark or a perfect overall project or the eighth wonder of the world,” he said. “There will be inevitable changes, compromise and areas of controversy. This is simply par for the course.

“What we do promise is a nice little ballpark,” Lucchino said. 

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