Clark’s Newest Worcester Neighbor: The WooSox!

William Schechter, Scarlet Staff

The Major League Baseball season has already begun, and it is in full swing. The minor league Triple-A season will begin soon too, and that means the beginning of WooSox baseball! The WooSox, or Worcester Red Sox, are the newest baseball team on the block. Massachusetts now hosts the Major League and Triple-A teams within the Red Sox’ organization, but how did we get here? Looking back a few years to 2015, the Pawtucket Red Sox, or PawSox, began searching for somewhere new to call home. Their old venue, McCoy Stadium, was showing its age, and the team was tired of playing on a somewhat rundown field. First, the organization turned to nearby Providence, aiming to stay in RI. The stadium deal floundered however, and the team again had to look elsewhere. Obviously, Boston was not a possible landing spot, but the team still wanted to migrate to a location with a market big enough to support their needs. Some places came to mind (mostly in Massachusetts), with a few examples of possible homes including Weymouth, Brockton, Springfield, and Attleboro. However, one city stood above the rest from the beginning, and that was Worcester, Clark’s very own. Over 10,000 notes from local Worcester fans proclaiming their excitement for a possible new local team were sent to the PawSox organization. Finally in 2018, after much anticipation, the PawSox and Worcester city officials held a joint press conference announcing the formal transfer of the team to Worcester. This set stadium plans into full motion, settling on a six acre empty plot within the Canal District of Worcester. Not only was a new stadium envisioned, but an additional 18 acre area including the stadium was set to be renovated, comprising all new restaurants, hotels, shops, and multi-use buildings. This plan thankfully also included a face lift for the dreaded and deadly Kelley Square intersection.

Moving forward, the new venue of the Worcester Red Sox was to be named Polar Park, after the local beverage company Polar. Designs were set and ground was broken, construction for the park began in July 2019. Progress seemed slow at first, however the build team stayed on schedule and maintained that the stadium would be ready for the 2021 debut. This remained true, and as we know now, the stadium is ready for the home opener; even so this was not always a certainty in the eyes of some. Costs and build times increased as the schedule moved forward and the plot of land the stadium was set on proved to be more challenging than originally expected. Then 2020 happened, and this little bug started going around called COVID-19, you may have heard of it. The team of builders, organized by Boston based project manager Skanska USA, had to shut down for a short time at the beginning of the pandemic; nevertheless the crew remained diligent and fulfilled their promise of a 2021 open. Now you may be asking yourself how this six acre, 9,508 capacity, stadium is being funded, and that is a very reasonable question. The answer is nontraditional in the way of stadium funding. Instead of the usual tax increase on taxpayers in the surrounding area, the city wanted to try something new. The original cost estimates were around 100 million dollars when construction began. As we all know, even the best laid plans do not always come to fruition the way we envisioned.This can be seen with the construction of Polar Park, since the price is now upwards of 150 million dollars. The original payment plan consisted of a 33.8 million dollar contribution from the PawSox (soon to be WooSox at the time) organization, 35 million dollars in public funding from the state of Massachusetts, and a multi-million dollar Worcester City loan. Again, instead of increasing taxes on Worcester residents, the plan also called for a brand new tax on the  private businesses created within the 18 acres around the stadium. There are two primary costs when constructing a new stadium: building costs and land costs. Initially, the building costs were set to equal 90 million and the land costs were to be around 10.8 million, for a total of 100.8 million dollars. In reality, Once construction was underway, the cost looked quite different with a new projected construction price tag set at 118.2 and a land fee of 41.3 million. This equaled a new total of 159.5 million dollars. With the greatly increased fare, the project required more funding, and a new city loan with an estimated value around 30 million dollars was granted. The WooSox organization is on the hook for any remaining outstanding balances. Even with these setbacks in increased cost, the project is still set to follow the original vision of being “self supportive”. This basically means that the project is expected to pay for itself and hopefully, over time, actually turn a profit. Finally though, we arrive in May 2021, the stadium is set to go and fans are ready for the chance to see their new local team. One thing to keep in mind if you plan on attending a game, at the time of this article the stadium can only allow 12% of its total holding capacity into games. This COVID restriction means that only 1,141 fans can attend a home game.

Most will agree that there is one obvious elephant in the room when discussing the WooSox, that being gentrification and exclusion of minority owned businesses during the building process. From the get go, the Polar Park plans received pushback from many in the Worcester community. Critics saw the project as an outside organization coming in, taking millions of dollars of funding that could go elsewhere, and occupying land that could be used to actually bolster the local community. While there is a balance to be struck between gentrification and real community uplift, this project seemingly leans more towards gentrification. Counterpoints to this motion include the fact that the grounds will have uses other than baseball; this includes multiple “community-oriented days” a year, as well as fundraising events for the local community. The new stadium and surrounding businesses will also bring a fresh supply of jobs to the area. While these points are valid, community fundraising and new jobs are great, I believe the concerns raised by those against the project remain important. Another striking point raised about the construction of Polar Park was the glaring lack of minority and women owned business involved. According to a GBH report, Boston’s local National Public Radio (NPR) station, minority and women owned businesses got around one percent – a miniscule fraction of the over 100 million dollars spent by the city. A report written by construction managers stated that around 17% of the total work was done by minority and women controlled companies. This sounds pretty good, especially when compared to their original goal of 20% and considering the fact that statistically most construction workers are white males. The catch is, that report was deemed to be false, and grossly misrepresented the total number of minority and female owned ventures involved in the construction process. Multiple businesses claimed to be minority owned on the report simply weren’t. Numbers were also reported higher than in reality, in one example the report said that two minority run businesses received a sum of $2,737,800. In an effort to corroborate this statistic, GBH contacted both of the companies for a statement. According to the information provided by these two firms to the local NPR station, the grand total of funding they obtained from the city was around $173,000. That’s almost 16 times less than the report originally stated. Obviously the write-up created by the construction manager Gilbane/Hunt seems inaccurate at best, or purposefully fabricated at worst. So what’s the take away from this? Is it bad for you to go to a WooSox game? Well, the short answer is no. The long answer is a bit more complex. If you have the desire to go to a WooSox game, you should, going to the ballpark is one of the most enjoyable things out there! This doesn’t mean however that we get a free pass.We as  fans of the game, but more importantly as members of the Worcester community, must examine the possible benefits and downsides of the WooSox move and acknowledge that the project has some stark problems. We must continue to support minority and women owned businesses and pressure those in power, especially in the local Worcester government, to do better in the future making sure all are represented in large construction projects like Polar Park.

The WooSox start their season against the Buffalo Bisons (Blue Jays’ affiliate) on May 4, and by the time this article is published the season will already be underway! Their inaugural home series is kicked off on May 11, when the Sox will face the Syracuse Mets. Ticket prices can start at around $29, sometimes even lower! Not too bad for a nice day out with your college friends. I know I’ll be visiting Polar Park to see the WooSox in action, and I hope to see some of you there too!