The City of Worcester and the PawSox have signed a letter of intent for the team to move from Pawtucket to a new stadium in Worcester, slated for completion in 2021.
While elements of the deal are similar to what was under consideration in Pawtucket, PawSox Chairman Larry Lucchino made clear his frustation about Rhode Island's political landscape.
Lucchino said his late mother would have asked him, "Why don’t you take your team where it’s wanted, where they really very much support you and want to have this ballpark done. Go where you’re wanted, not where there’s controversy and disagreement and opposition and all of that. It is as simple as that."
But Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo said the Worcester proposal is much more generous for the PawSox than what the team was offered in Rhode Island. She declined to call out House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello by name, but blamed legislative foot-dragging since, Raimondo believes, the PawSox would have agreed to a plan negotiated by her administration last year. That plan never got a vote in the House, which responded with a more costly proposal for the team.
"The legislature had this before them for over a year," Raimondo told reporters during an availability at RI's economic development agency. "That’s a long time – that gave the PawSox a lot of time to go find another deal and they found another deal. And the deal they found comes with a much bigger taxpayer subsidy than our deal.”
The governor rejected suggestions that her administration may bear part of the blame for the situation. She said the deal negotiated with state assistance, and passed by the Senate, would have protected taxpayers and kept the PawSox in Rhode Island.
Mattiello blamed the PawSox owners for their decision to move the team to Worcester. Mattiello has said he supported a proposal later rejected by the PawSox to offer more protection for taxpayers and to address input from constituents.
Lucchino singled out one Rhode Island official for praise: Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien, who pressed efforts in recent weeks and months to keep the team in the Ocean State.
Lucchino was joined by Worcester and Massachusetts officials in speaking during an afternoon news conference at Worcester City Hall.
The state of Massachusetts will contribute $35 million for infrastructure improvements, including a garage. The city has promised to invest more than $100 million. A tax district around the envisioned "Polar Park" Stadium is intended to pay back the cost of the $83 million stadium, but officials did not specify how much money will be borrowed or contributed by PawSox ownership.
The new stadium is envisioned as part of $240 million in development, including hotels, residential housing, and restaurants. The PawSox plan to play for the next two seasons at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket.
Details of the deal emerging from the announcement by city, state and team leaders:
- Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty -
Tens of thousands of people sent postcards urging us to make this happen.
Total investment represents $240 million, including complete redesign of city square in the Canal District.
The new team will be called the Worcester Red Sox, although Lucchino said the team may adopt a different name. He said the team's new ballpark will be known as Polar Park -- a nod to the Worcester-based soft drink company Polar, which, like the PawSox, uses a polar bear as a mascot.
Every public school student in Worcester will get a free ticket to a game at the new ballpark.
Series of community hearings to be held over the next month.
In Rhode Island, the finger-pointing quickly began.
Some elected officials mourned what they called a lost opportunity.
“It is extremely disappointing to learn of today’s decision by the PawSox," said RI Senate President Dominick Ruggerio. “The Senate did everything it could to pass responsible legislation to keep the PawSox in Rhode Island. I am very grateful for the commitment and hard work of Chairman Conley and the Senate Finance Committee. The committee was extremely diligent, holding over 30 hours of public hearings during an exceptionally open and transparent process. In recognition of the opportunity before us to revitalize downtown Pawtucket while preserving a Rhode Island institution, the Senate voted in the opening weeks of session this January to pass a responsible ballpark plan."
“The Senate legislation was fair to the team and beneficial to state and city taxpayers" Ruggerio added. "I am certain that the team would have stayed in Pawtucket had the Senate bill passed into law. I am proud of my colleagues in the Senate for their work on the ballpark proposal.”
House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello blamed the PawSox: “It is very unfortunate and extremely disappointing that the PawSox have decided to leave Rhode Island," Mattiello said in a statement. "The state’s proposal contained strong protections for the taxpayers and shifted the risk to the investors. It was responsive to the concerns of the taxpayers who made it clear that they did not want to accept the risk contained within the original proposal. It is disheartening the PawSox did not show the same loyalty to the City of Pawtucket and the State of Rhode Island as the taxpayers and fans have shown to them for many decades.”
Mattiello took a cautious approach to supporting a new PawSox stadium in Pawtucket -- a situation that many observers believe was influenced by his past and current legislative rival, RepublicanSteven Frias.
In a statement, Frias blamed Mattiello for the situation.
"I am proud to have been a voice for most Rhode Islanders who did not want taxpayer money used to build a new stadium for the PawSox owners," Frias said. "Instead of giving the voters the final say through a bond referendum as to whether they want to pay for a new PawSox stadium, Speaker Mattiello tried to fool people on both sides of the PawSox debate with his last-minute, junk bond stadium plan. Because Mattiello’s deal would have cost the taxpayers and the owners even more money, it ended up pleasing no one.”
- MA Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito -
State will commit $35 million for infrastructure needed for new ballpark.
This is a significant committment to the city and to a central area of the Commonwealth.
"Transformational" project to include two hotels, restaurants, housing.
Project represents opportunity for the residents who live in Worcester and in this area.
Calls PawSox Chairman Larry Lucchino: "a tough fish to catch."
Envisions this project as part of a hip, new neighborhood developing in Worcester.
"We're truly excited about what that represents."
- City Manager Ed Augustus -
"Today the stars have aligned."
Describes negotiations as a 12-month courtship.
People of the Canal District led the effort through advocacy, tenacity and postcards.
Cites strong support from the business community.
"We know this was not an easy decision after many years playing in Pawtucket."
Believes this will be one of the most historic journeys in Worcester history.
Park will be built on 6-acre parcel, capacity of 10,000
Other redevelopment will include hotels and retail space, plus improved infrastructure.
Construction to start July 2019, conclude by April 2021.
Facility to host 125 year-round events including concerts, minor league baseball, fireworks, etc.
Development will be self-supporting, no existing city revenue will be used.
City will borrow more than $100 million to finance project.
New taxes, parking fees, etc. from tax district will pay debt service on ballpark.
- Larry Lucchino -
Says mayor first called him three years ago to begin process and he said, "No thank you. We are committed to Rhode Island." But Worcester persisted.
"We learned a great deal about Worcester and its people and its pride... There was a sense of team pride and teamwork."
"We learned about the passion that people in the city feel for the city of Worcester," Lucchino said.
"We learned that there was a broad base of support... and a great history for baseball in this town."
"This is more than a ballpark, this is a ballpark and a redevelopment plan."
Deal must be approved by Worcester City Council, it's a 35-page document.
"We feel it will be a win-win-win."
Says the team is still to be named.
Gives special thanks to Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien: "He's been a wonderful partner, a heroic champion of his city. We hope we can continue to work with him."
"We thank the fans of the Pawtucket Red Sox."
Cites leadership from MA Gov. Baker and "won't take no for an answer spirit" of Lt. Gov. Polito with helping bring us to this day.
One obstacle: would we find a good name for ballpark? Says they found a name. The stadium will be called: Polar Park for the Polar beverage company, headquartered in Worcester.