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Telegram & Gazette (Massachusetts)
WORCESTER - The City Council will be taking one final vote Tuesday night - albeit what is expected to be a perfunctory one - on authorizing the city manager to borrow up to $100.8 million for the construction of a ballpark that will be the home of the Boston Red Sox top minor league team beginning with the 2021 season.
On Sept. 12, the council voted 9-1 to advertise the loan order, with Councilor-at-Large Konstantina B. Lukes casting the lone vote in opposition.
District 5 Councilor Matthew E. Wally recused himself from voting and participating in the discussion of the item because of his employment with a company that has a financial involvement with the relocation of the Pawtucket Red Sox to Worcester.
Under the council's rules, loan orders must receive two votes of approval - a simple majority (six) votes to advertise and a two-thirds majority (eight votes) for final adoption.
Given the outcome of the vote nearly two weeks ago, there are already enough votes on the council to meet the two-thirds requirement.
No city councilor has given any indication since the first vote of having a change of heart and most of them even participated in last week's big civic celebration to welcome the PawSox to Worcester.
While Mrs. Lukes voted against advertising the loan order - she did not feel the council had enough information to take a vote at that time - the councilor did leave the door open for possibly supporting the loan order when it comes up for a second vote if she is able to get answers to questions she raised.
She said the fact that the ballpark project also involves the redevelopment of a part of the city that has been ignored for decades is something that appeals to her."I'm more likely to support (the project) than not, but not at this time," Mrs. Lukes said at the last council meeting. "This project still has a lot of questions pending. I feel we're in a rush to put this forward."
Bonds for the ballpark, which will be built by the city, are to be paid off by new property taxes, lease revenues and other new revenue sources generated by the private development. Mr. Augustus said the ballpark project will be "self-sustaining" and will not utilize existing tax funding or require an increase in property taxes.The council will also be taking up for a second and final vote a recommendation to waive the first $2 million of building permit, water connection and sewer connection fees for Madison Downtown Holdings, LLC, the private developer of the proposed $240 million public/private redevelopment project encompassing property on both sides of Madison Street, near Kelley Square.
Madison Downtown Holdings is looking to invest $90 million in construction of two hotels; 225 units of market-rate housing; and some 65,000 square feet of retail/restaurant space on nearly 18 acres of largely vacant and blighted land now owned by Wyman-Gordon Co. on both the north and south sides of Madison Street.
In a related matter, City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. said environmental cleanup costs of the ballpark site has already been included in the project budget. The Worcester Redevelopment Authority will be taking the lead in overseeing the construction of the ballpark.
Mr. Augustus said any environmental cleanup costs related to the private development aspect of the project are the responsibility of Madison Downtown Holdings.
Also, while some city councilors have raised questions as to whether the agreement between the PawSox and the city can mandate that the minor league team playing in Worcester be affiliated with the Boston Red Sox, the manager said such an affiliation is not a matter that can be committed to between the ballclub and city.
He said the affiliation agreement is a contract between the Red Sox and its minor league affiliate, and by the rules of Major League Baseball can have a term of no longer than four years.
Mr. Augustus pointed out, however, that despite the formal limits to the term of the affiliation agreement, the relationship between the Boston Red Sox and the Pawtucket organization has been a strong one for more than 45 years.
"There is no foreseeable reason that the same organization, operating as the Worcester Red Sox, could not maintain that same longevity of affiliation," Mr. Augustus wrote in a report that goes before the City Council Tuesday night.
Pawtucket has been the Red Sox Triple A affiliate since 1973.
Before that, the Red Sox had Triple A affiliates in San Francisco (1956-1957), Minneapolis (1958-1960), Seattle (1961-1964), Toronto (1965-1967) and Louisville (1946-1955 and 1968-1972). With the exception of Louisville, all those cities now have Major League Baseball teams.
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