Edward M. Augustus Jr., City of Worcester Director, Polar Park Project
Edward M. Augustus Jr.
On May 11, we celebrated Opening Day at Polar Park with the Worcester Red Sox’s first official home game. It was a great day for our community and I am grateful to so many people who helped make it happen.
While this much-anticipated occasion has been well documented by the local media over the past few weeks, I want to take a moment to share some of my own thoughts.
In 2016, the Worcester Redevelopment Authority adopted the Downtown Urban Revitalization Plan in partnership with the City of Worcester. The purpose of the plan was and is to facilitate the redevelopment of underutilized properties that have long suffered from divestment. The plan aims to create an active and versatile 18-hour downtown with a vibrant entertainment and cultural environment for residents, businesses and visitors.
As it turned out, an important element in the creation of the plan was the inclusion of the properties of the Wyman Gordon Company which had been left fallow for decades following their consolidation in the 1990s. For years , elected officials and administrators spoke out on their visions of a higher and better use of vacant wasteland.
In 2013, following the passage of gambling laws in Massachusetts, an agreement was nearly reached for a slot machine show at this site, but many in the community did not. not supported. I believe Worcester has been wise to be patient a little longer. What we needed was a plan that included a community process and community input.
After many public meetings, the vision for the urban revitalization plan for Wyman Gordon’s land was a mixed-use development with significant density, comprising retail, housing and a recreation complex.
About a year later, as negotiations to build a new baseball stadium in Rhode Island dwindled, many New England towns pitched to recruit the Red Sox’s Triple-A affiliate from Boston. As Larry Lucchino said, it wasn’t just a financial game, the team wanted to be adopted. In 2017, Worcester City Council unanimously approved a resolution calling on me and my administration to do everything in our power to make the deal a success.
The Canal District Alliance launched a public appeal and sent over 10,000 postcards to the team. The Baker-Polito administration has expressed support for a move to Massachusetts, to Worcester in particular. Fueling the support, the local business community stepped up its essential sponsorship commitments. This project became a Worcester-style reality – everyone coming together as a community, showcasing all that makes Worcester special and welcoming the team with open arms.
When the project was announced, we promised that Polar Park would look, smell, smell and taste like Worcester. I believe that feeling really guided the approach of the city and the team throughout the process. Design features large and small pay homage to Worcester – the heart-shaped lights, the smiley faces atop the poles, the badges on each row of seats, the local artwork, the narrative elements of the local baseball history, and more.
While some have criticized the facade’s end result, once again we took every opportunity to give it the Worcester look and feel. Many bullet yards have brick facades, while that in Worcester was inspired by the architecture of Higgins’ armory and in the past to the steel beams of a post-industrial town, an idea that is Born during the initial team “fan-plan” meetings to collect ideas from the community.
Local vendors and restaurant owners with concessions ensure that we smell and taste our local cuisine at every game. The institutionalization of this Worcester-centric approach into our creation of space is two new streets affectionately referred to as Green Island Boulevard and Canal Street, additional public art and direction that will come to life this year, the installation of a replica of the canal water at Pickett. Plaza, and more.
In July 2019, we celebrated the grand opening of the baseball stadium; happily disturbing the overgrown weeds and cracked paving stones of the old parking lot. We were ready to embark on an aggressive program to transform the entire package into a world-class baseball stadium in less than two years.
We’ve certainly had our fair share of bumps along the way, none of which could have been more disruptive or unexpected than a global pandemic. COVID-19 has changed just about every aspect of life as we know it, and Polar Park was certainly not immune. Construction activity stopped for seven weeks. Madison Properties’ private development has been delayed. PPE has become part of the daily routine. Even after construction resumed, the quarantine affected productivity.
Against all expectations, the schedule was found and the project was completed on time. I am so proud of the dedicated workers who made this possible, showing an immense amount of push and heart. I am also proud to say that approximately 93% of the contract value for Polar Park was achieved by unions whose culture of safety and training has been particularly helpful in the face of COVID-19. I have seen confused reports and comments on whether the project should be 100% union.
Polar Park followed a public procurement process which provided a fair and competitive opportunity to bid on the project. Our union partners have also helped ensure that we have a diverse and local workforce on the project. Local unions have invested heavily in recruitment and training aimed specifically at increasing diversity in the construction trades. Their apprenticeship programs have helped create these career paths and some recent graduate apprentices have helped build Polar Park.
While we pride ourselves on the diverse representation of Polar Park’s workforce, we would like to gain greater participation from various business ventures and are committed to doing our part to remove barriers and increase that participation in public projects. We know that there are skilled minority and women entrepreneurs that we need to help us become certified and bonded to participate in public projects.
Despite all the challenges, I am confident that Polar Park will eventually become self-financing and create a return on investment for the City of Worcester. The Worcester Red Sox shared responsibility for cost overruns. Although the City has also incurred additional debt, this is offset by new revenues. We are already seeing economic spinoffs and new private investments that we never counted on in 2018.
Our current revenue estimates still do not provide for any unknown future investments. I think it’s safe to say that further developments will also occur over the course of 30 years. But we chose not to bet on it – so that an unknown future development will still create a positive return for the city.
The grand opening of Madison Properties’ first residential building is just around the corner. These developments are also creating opportunities for Worcester – more construction jobs, more permanent jobs, more amenities and entertainment options, and more housing options, including affordable housing.
Aside from the financial return, we cannot lose sight of the other benefits that this project creates, although more difficult to quantify. In all my life, I have not witnessed a more palpable pride in our city than in the days since the initial announcement and it continues unabated. Regional and national media coverage of the Worcester Red Sox will provide significant marketing and branding value to the city.
The livability of the city has improved with another option of family entertainment. The facility has dedicated days for community use, such as this year’s high school graduation ceremony. The Worcester Red Sox got involved and began to build strong partnerships with our community organizations.
Above all, I look forward to all the memories that will be created for generations to come. While these are very real benefits, you can’t put a dollar value on them.
It’s no surprise that I believe in Polar Park. However, I also believe, and we as a community know from experience, that there are no quick fixes. Polar Park does not define our city. It does not define our economic development strategy. This might receive the most attention, but we are also committed to improving and providing all essential public services that meet the needs of our community.
Nonetheless, this project was a godsend for the city, and I loved seeing the smiley faces on our Worcester Red Sox fans.
Edward M. Augustus Jr. is the Director of the City of Worcester.