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Telegram & Gazette (Massachusetts)
WORCESTER — The final piece of the deal to bring the Pawtucket Red Sox to this city is in place.
The City Council Tuesday night approved a loan authorization of up to $100.8 million for the construction of a 10,000-seat ballpark that will be the new home of the Boston Red Sox top minor league team, beginning with the 2021 season.
The vote was 9-1, with Councilor-at-Large Konstantina B. Lukes casting the lone vote in opposition.
District 5 Councilor Matthew E. Wally recused himself from the vote because of his employment with a company that has financial involvement with the relocation of the Pawtucket Red Sox.
Approval of the loan authorization now enables the Worcester Redevelopment Authority to proceed with hiring a project manager and design services for the ballpark effort, to be constructed on a 6.5-acre site in the Kelley Square area, north of Madison Street.
The ballpark will be owned by the city.
While three parties — the WRA, the city and the ballclub — will be involved in overseeing the stadium project, the redevelopment authority is considered the lead because the project is in an urban renewal district.
The WRA will also have to amend the boundary of its Downtown Urban Revitalization District by expanding it to facilitate land-takings that might become necessary. As part of the ballpark project, the city, through the WRA, is looking to acquire seven private properties for an entrance to the ballpark off Green Street.
City officials have said consideration is being given to redesigning the Pickett Municipal Parking Lot, located on Green Street near Temple Street, as a pedestrian-friendly plaza and main entrance to the ballpark.
Construction of the stadium, to be called Polar Park, is scheduled to begin in July 2019 and completed by March 2021.
Under state municipal finance laws, approval of loan orders is a two-step process. A simple majority (six votes) is needed to advertise a loan order and a two-thirds majority (eight votes) is needed for final adoption.
The vote on the loan order mirrored the vote taken by the City Council on Sept. 12 when it approved a resolution in support of the deal negotiated by City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. to bring the Pawtucket Red Sox to Worcester and agreeing to advertise the loan order for the ballpark project.
Of the $100.8 million to be borrowed, $70.6 million in general obligation bonds will go toward the cost of the ballpark, land acquisition, culvert work, capitalized interest and borrowing costs. Those bonds will be paid off by new property taxes, lease revenues and other new revenue sources generated by private development associated with the ballpark project.
Another $30.2 million in bonds will be covered by the baseball team's annual rent payment for the stadium. In addition, the team will make a $6 million equity contribution toward construction and equipping of the ballpark.
All of which is intended to make the ballpark project "self-sustaining" and not require the city to utilize existing tax funding or require an increase in property taxes specifically for this project.
Before the vote, District 4 Councilor Sarai Rivera said she was looking for the city administration to solidify plans that set goals for livable wages, hiring preferences and residency for construction-related jobs and jobs that will be created when the ballpark opens.
Among the goals sought is making a majority of the new positions created available to Worcester residents, as well as having a set percentage of new jobs filled by people of color, women and by low- and moderate-income residents.
Assistant City Manager Kathleen G. Johnson said the ballclub has committed to hiring Worcester residents. She added it is premature to discuss the types of jobs that will be created and the wages for them since the club will not be moving to Worcester until the 2021 season.
"This is something we will need to have more conversation with the ballclub about," she said.
Ms. Rivera said she wants to see the club and city do more than just try to meet goals being talked about.
She said if all in the city are going to benefit from the project, then city government has to be committed to seeing to it that all job preference goals are met.
Only one person from the public addressed the City Council on the loan order.
Stephen Gordon, a local lawyer, spoke in opposition to it, describing the deal and the city's willingness to borrow money to build the ballpark as "corporate welfare."
He pointed out that overall minor league baseball attendance is declining across the country, with the Pawtucket Red Sox experiencing one of the bigger drops. He also doubted if the team has the financial capability to pay for cost-overruns for the ballpark project, if any should develop, as called for in the letter of intent it signed with the city.
But Mayor Joseph M. Petty said City Auditor Robert Stearns reviewed the team's financials and did not raise any red flags.
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