WORCESTER (CBS) – This summer, work gets underway for a $240 million project in the City of Worcester. The Worcester Red Sox are just weeks away from breaking ground on their brand new stadium, and the vision is becoming more of a reality in the city. Paula Ebben went to Worcester to tour the area with Chairman Larry Lucchino, who says the two year project will mean “more than just a ballpark.”
“Home plate would be right here out this way, left field here, center field here,” Lucchino pointed out. “It’s designed to fit in this part, north of Madison, whereas most people expect it to be south of Madison. That is where the development is going to be.”
As Worcester Red Sox Chairman Larry Lucchino walked around an abandoned industrial site on Madison Street in Worcester, he outlined the team’s new $90 million home in Worcester that will be ready in less than two years.
“The city is very eager both to get the Triple-A Farm Club of the Red Sox here in Worcester – they have tried on and off for years, they were sure they were always going to be the bridesmaid and never the bride. This time, we changed that, and I think they are excited on the baseball front, but they are certainly excited on the development front – the catalyst that the ballpark will be on urban planning.”
“It will be very interesting,” Lucchino pointed out, “because it’s more than a ballpark… it’s a complete project that will generate revenue and bring about the revitalization of this area. We’re going to put down a home plate soon so people can see where it’s going to be, maybe first second and third base, too.”
The urban renewal project will connect the historic “Canal District” to the major landmarks of downtown Worcester. With only 23 months to go until fans hear “Play ball!” General Manager Daniel Rea is on a tight schedule.
Rea calls some aspects of the project some of the most unusual business and retail space in Massachusetts. “To the left field direction here, you have an office building that will probably be, I would say, the most unique office in probably Massachusetts and maybe America because it looks into the ballpark. And on its ground level, it has a marketplace. So think of almost a ‘Worcester Faneuil Hall’ on the ground level.”
“There will be some road closures. There’ll be some traffic,” Rea acknowledged, “but I think people are really excited. When we meet with constituents around the City, we hear from them that they’re excited for April 2021 to come. We’re building up momentum, as Larry said. This neighborhood has I think 60 or 70 bars already, so we’re building on that momentum.”
In addition to Triple-A baseball, Polar Park will feature up to 20 concerts a year as well as other year-round sporting events like football and winter sports that baseball fans have grown used to attending in Fenway Park. “What we did at Fenway in terms of making it more year-round is one of the principal concepts that we hope to advance here as well,” Lucchino said.
Across Madison Street, the business development area will include two hotels, an office building and residences – the kind of urban renewal surrounding the stadium which Lucchino says will benefit the city far beyond baseball. “The development is very much a critical part. We are not just building a ballpark.”
The images supplied by the team so far are not entirely complete, but give a good idea of the design still underway by famed architect Janet Marie Smith, with whom Lucchino worked on the renovations of Camden Yards in Baltimore and Fenway Park in Boston.
“Janet is a virtuoso,” Lucchino raved. “When she was with us at the Red Sox our slogan was ‘we fight for inches’ – anywhere in Fenway Park we could find a few more inches. Now we have a lot of inches here to do some good things. They will see an urban ballpark that will be in the key part of the city that will be intimate, compact, it will have some Fenway-like characteristics… but it will be a little unconventional.”
The scope of the project feels as though it could have massive impact in the region. “We are hoping that it does,” said Lucchino. “The ballpark is a public-private partnership which can sometimes work and sometimes not work. We are determined that this is going to work for the City of Worcester.”
A big piece of the project is the reconfiguration of treacherous Kelley Square, where no fewer than seven streets converge on one intersection, and where – as one local resident put it – right now “there are no rules.” MassDOT is working on the redesign of the roadways which has not yet been finalized.
As for the name “Woo Sox” which has become the interim moniker for the team? Nothing’s official yet.
“It’s organic,” Lucchino said. “It was not a front-runner in the early days. It seems to have caught fire a little bit. People seem to rally behind that, but no final decision has been made. We want something that is distinctive and fitting and fits the public’s view of the ballpark… it’s in the running.”
The one name that will literally be carved in stone is “POLAR PARK.” Lucchino says the family-owned Polar Beverages Company, owned by the Crowley family, has operated in Worcester since 1882 and was a natural fit.
“We are really lucky to have the Crowley family to be one of the first families of Worcester to jump in and make a commitment to the naming rights of the ballpark. They have done more than that. They have been like early ambassadors for the corporate community, which has remarkably galvanized to be supportive of this project. It’s like they have been waiting for someone to ask them.”
Polar Beverages Executive Vice President Chris Crowley agrees. “It’s been a great investment from our perspective, for the city as well. I mean, we’re part of the city, and we spend a tremendous amount of capital improvements, making our plant better, and we might as well try to make the city better as well. I love Worcester! It’s home and it’s just so affordable to bring a family.”
The Crowleys hope fans find good value in their hometown. “It’s absolutely going to be a family destination and just a wonderful part of the charm and character of Worcester… just enjoy your Polar products while there!”
Many big announcements are still to come: from ticket prices and parking to food options, but the goal is to reflect the Worcester food scene with local brands like Wormtown Brewery, Coney Island Hot Dogs, and Table Talk Pies. Lucchino promises, “they are all in the ballpark in some way, shape or form.”
The motif for the decoration inside the stadium, Lucchino plans, will be “historic Worcester baseball. Worcester had a baseball team in the 1880’s; it was in the National League. The first perfect game was thrown here in Worcester. The man who came up with the double-header was a Worcester person, so there is a rich tradition of baseball at every level – including the amateur level and college level – so we are optimistic that we can incorporate that.”
While the team will doff its hat to the history of its baseball past, the new Polar Park will also embrace the future of the game experience through a technology partnership with WPI. “We made an early commitment to technology,” Lucchino said, including virtual reality and mobile ordering apps for the various food options. “I don’t think we have robots yet in this ballpark,” he laughed, “but we do want to have the next generation of technological advantage.”
And above all, there will be a focus on affordability. “As it should be,” Lucchino said, “at the Triple-A level. If we use the phrase ‘affordable family entertainment’ once, we’ve used it a thousand times, and we hope to maintain the base of affordable family entertainment. It’s going to be innovative, and it’s going to be compact, and it’s going to be charming and comfortable for families. I think it’s going to be a real addition to the Massachusetts landscape.”
Opening Day is set for April 2021.