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September 25, 2020

Worcester Redevelopment Authority approves critical Polar Park land deal

Photo | Grant Welker A three-story steel structure at Polar Park will become the main entrance at Madison Street.

The Worcester Redevelopment Authority approved Friday morning a deal giving the city the land where the Polar Park baseball stadium is being built and where the minor league Worcester Red Sox will play in April.

The long-delayed land conveyance solves a lingering challenge facing the $132-million ballpark project: the city didn't own the site and was building Polar Park using a series of right-of-entry agreements, the last of which is due to expire at the end of the month.

WRA unanimously approved the conveyance, which is set to become official in 10 days. Obtaining the ballpark site from Madison Properties, a developer, was originally due to take place on April 1, 2019.

The long-expected formality took on added importance after that delay.

Photo | WBJ | File
Peter Dunn, Worcester chief development officer

"A huge milestone in terms of putting the pieces together for the ballpark development," said Peter Dunn, the city's chief development officer.

"This is very, very exciting," authority board member David Manasian said. "I want to know who gets the pen after you sign it," he later told board chairman Vincent Pedone.

Boston developer Madison Properties bought the Polar Park site and surrounding land for $6 million in early 2019 from Wyman-Gordon, a manufacturer that remains in operation in a smaller site off Madison Street across from the ballpark. City officials have said Madison bought the ballpark site before transferring it to the city -- rather than the city buying the ballpark site from Wyman-Gordon directly -- because Madison had already begun sale negotiations with Wyman-Gordon.

As part of the land deal approved Friday, the city is giving Madison Properties land just beyond the ballpark's left field wall for where the developer is planning an office building.

Madison Properties has proposed a hotel, two office buildings, two residential buildings and retail space, mostly on the south side of Madison Street. The project has been delayed, with construction now set to start this fall on a first residential building that would open in two years.

In exchange for Madison conveying the ballpark land to the city, the city is waiving the first $2.3 million in permitting fees and providing tax breaks on all five buildings in the Madison development surrounding the ballpark.

The redevelopment authority on Friday also approved amended tax break schedules because of Madison's delays and a binding land disposition and development agreement between the city and Madison Properties, as well as two cost changes related to both the ballpark and the related development.

That includes an amendment for design costs for a planned 340-space parking garage on the Madison Properties site that's being relied on for parking for WooSox games, among other uses. Design costs had to be increased by $612,810 because the project was reduced in size from 525 spaces to keep costs to a $23-million budget, Dunn, the city's chief development officer, told the board. The entire cost is expected to be covered by a state MassWorks infrastructure grant.

Also approved was $631,519 in additional costs for project management services to the international firm Skanska. Those costs reflect responsibilities taken up that were outside the original planned scope of work and for making up for lost time during a seven-week construction shutdown in the spring because of the coronavirus pandemic, Dunn said.

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