Woosox-City pact on Polar Park lease

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US Worcester Polar Park lease agreement Image: Polar Park

The City of Worcester (US) and the Worcester Red Sox (Class AAA; International League) arrived at a final Polar Park (under-construction baseball park) lease agreement that puts the project’s final price tag at $117 million, including $17 million in project overruns.

The Worcester Red Sox (nicknamed the WooSox) are a professional minor league baseball (MiLB) team scheduled to begin play in 2021. The team is scheduled to play in the International League as the Triple-A affiliate of the American professional baseball team Boston Red Sox, succeeding the Pawtucket Red Sox.

The Pawtucket Red Sox were a professional minor league baseball (MiLB) team based in Pawtucket, Rhode Island (US). The team was a member of the International League and was the Triple-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox from 1973 to 2020.

Polar Park is a baseball park under construction in Worcester, Massachusetts. It will be the home of the Worcester Red Sox, a Minor League Baseball team in the Triple-A International League that will relocate from Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Targeted to open in 2021, it will seat up to 10,000 people.

Minor League Baseball (MiLB) is a hierarchy of professional baseball leagues in the Americas that compete at levels below Major League Baseball (MLB) and help prepare players to join major league teams. All of the minor leagues are operated as independent businesses.

The $17 million in project overruns will be covered by the team, although the City will be borrowing it: $10 million to cover realized costs and $4 million to cover the cost of borrowing the sum. The City’s maximum share of funding Polar Park is $104.5 million.

As per media reports, the final 35-year Polar Park lease agreement will be slightly different than earlier tentative leases and the original letter of intent.

In consideration for handling the financing for the team to cover the additional costs, the final lease agreement that will go before the Worcester Redevelopment Authority, which is overseeing construction of the ballpark, includes adjustments that in some areas reduce the City’s financial risk and call for increased commitments from the team, and in other areas give the City bigger shares of various revenue sources.

The City Manager of Worcester, Edward M. Augustus Jr., said $1.62 million of the $17 million in additional costs were directly attributable to COVID-19 which continues with its ‘Dance of Death’ in the United States, including a seven-week shutdown in the Spring and a host of logistical and scheduling changes to accommodate social distancing. Supply chains were also affected, and design changes factored into the increased costs on the project.

Augustus said the loan taken out on the team’s behalf will be “fully supported” by annual payments by the team, in addition to payments over the lease period on $31 million the City has already borrowed on behalf of the team. The combined payments will form the basis of the team’s payments to the City for use of the ballpark.

In return, the WooSox agreed to a number of changes, including extending the lease from 30 to 35 years; agree not to move the team for 25 years, up from 15; increase the facility fee from $1 to $2 per ticket; and letting the City off the hook for a guaranteed $3.1 million in corporate sponsorships.

The full City Council is expected to greenlight the Polar Park lease at its January 15th meeting.

The WooSox are relocating from Pawtucket’s McCoy Stadium for the 2021 season.

To lend a nostalgic touch, a new candlepin bowling alley is part of the development surrounding Polar Park.

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