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WooSox vs. WeySox: Weymouth offered the team an even better deal than Worcester

October 29, 2018
Image/Courtesy
Image/Courtesy
A rendering of a proposed baseball stadium in Weymouth.

Worcester wasn't the only Massachusetts community considering ponying up major money to attract the Pawtucket Red Sox.

As Worcester officials were negotiating with PawSox officials earlier this year, Weymouth Mayor Robert Hedlund was pitching the team with a deal very similar to what Worcester would end up offering, according to documents obtained by the Worcester Business Journal not previously reported publicly.

Hedlund suggested an $85-million stadium, paid entirely and owned by the town, as the anchor of a large mixed-use development.

At first, when the PawSox and the City of Worcester announced their deal to move the team to the Canal District in 2021, it appeared Worcester overpaid by offering $101 million in public financing vs. the $38 million offered in Rhode Island. However, these new documents from Weymouth show at least one city was engaged in negotiations with the team and willing to offer an even sweeter deal than Worcester.

The Weymouth Red Sox

Unlike Worcester's proposed $240-million development with the stadium as an anchor, the proposed Weymouth development, Union Point, is already partly built out. It is also just 18 miles from downtown Boston, and is envisioned as a community with more than 4,000 housing units and 8 million square feet of commercial space.

The Weymouth stadium site was proposed to be joined by a 6,000-seat performance venue and a second smaller entertainment facility.

A draft memorandum of understanding for the team to sign with Weymouth was dated July 26, only three weeks before Worcester and the PawSox signed their own contract at a packed ceremony in City Hall attended by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito.

Worcester officials said in a statement that it knew of Weymouth's potential bid but that the competition did not affect Worcester's own process in attracting the team.

It's not clear if the Boston Red Sox, who would have to ultimately sign off on a move from Pawtucket, would have approved a deal to bring its top farm team so close to Fenway Park.

The PawSox didn't comment specifically on the Weymouth proposal but said the team heard from more than 20 communities around New England when looking for a potential new ballpark.

"For many reasons Worcester emerged as the best situation for us after extensive consideration of the different options on the table," said Dan Rea, the team's executive vice president and general manager.

Charles Steinberg, the PawSox president, said at a city event Oct. 19 the team didn't expect it would leave its longtime home city, comparing it to the decision of baseball's Brooklyn Dodgers to leave for Los Angeles in the 1950s.

But the PawSox were attracted to Worcester by the idea of being part of a renaissance, as Steinberg put it, instead of being the catalyst to start one.

"We could simply be part of it, and it's a lot easier," he said.

A more generous offer

Weymouth's proposal, unlike Worcester's, was never finalized. The Worcester Business Journal obtained draft documents and correspondence from the town to the team.

"During our last meeting," Hedlund wrote July 31, "you said you are worried whether the town of Weymouth could bond a ballpark for you team. Let me reassure you, once again and this time in writing, yes we can!"

Hedlund said the ballpark would be paid through a new local property tax revenue through a so-called district improvement financing – the same mechanism Worcester is using with the Canal District to capture new revenue and divert it to paying out stadium debt.

Image/Courtesy
Image/Courtesy
A schematic plan for how a ballpark for the Pawtucket Red Sox would have fit into a mixed-use district in Weymouth.

Hedlund drafted a memo to the Weymouth Town Council on May 31, proposing the district improvement financing and a dense mixed-use site including glass buildings just beyond the stadium's outfield walls.

Weymouth's proposal was even more generous to the team than Worcester's.

The team wouldn't have been required to pay any upfront costs — in comparison to Worcester, where it will pitch in $6 million to start. In Weymouth, the team would have paid $250,000 each year into a capital maintenance fund for the park. In Worcester, the team is obligated to create and fund a maintenance fund, though revenue for the fund will come from $1 surcharge on each ticket sold.

The 11-member Weymouth Town Council was never ultimately presented with the plan, according to the mayor's office.

The Patriot Ledger, a Quincy newspaper, reported in September the PawSox did not want to be involved in project at Union Point under the then-CEO of developer LStar, Kyle Corkum. LStar's manager and partner, Steven Vining, was reported as telling Corkum the team would not consider moving to Weymouth if he was involved. LStar has sued Corkum for misspending funds.

Hedlund declined to comment for this story but said in August after the PawSox and Worcester reached a deal that the town was an underdog against Worcester.

"Worcester was the front-runner, but we weren't dusted right out of the gate," Hedlund told The Patriot Ledger. "We thought we could emerge as the surprise victor."

Looking for an urban setting

Weymouth's deal beared a lot of similarities to the Canal District site in Worcester where the PawSox are expecting to begin play in 2021. In Weymouth, it is just half a mile from an MBTA commuter rail station and three-quarters of a mile from Route 18. LStar, the developer of the Union Point development on a former military base, was to donate the land to the town to build the stadium.

Worcester has committed to building the PawSox a stadium on city-owned land after buying it from Texas manufacturer Wyman-Gordon.

Weymouth proposed issuing a $100-million bond. Earlier this month, Worcester issued a $101-million bond for its stadium.

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Like Worcester's deal, Weymouth proposed a 30-year lease from the team. In Weymouth's case, the team would have paid less than in Worcester — $750,000 compared to roughly $1 million — in the first 15 years of the agreement. In the next 15 years, it would pay $1 million a year. Like Worcester's deal, the PawSox were entitled to keep all revenue streams from the ballpark.

In Weymouth's proposal, the team and the town would have split naming-rights revenue evenly beyond the first $500,000, which the team would pocket. In Worcester, the team will be able to keep all that money.

It isn't clear how many other cities were serious contenders for the team, and PawSox officials have never said, except to say 20 communities were at one time under consideration.

Providence was a first choice for a new park by the PawSox until opposition to the plan made the team look back to Pawtucket. Officials in Fall River and Springfield made comments related to potentially drawing the team, but talks appear to have never gained momentum in either city.

In Fall River, The Herald News reported Mayor Jasiel Correia cooled to the idea of attracting the team after initially reaching out in 2016.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno told MassLive in the summer of 2017 the city would love to have the team but he was skeptical of how serious PawSox Chairman Larry Lucchino was in moving the team.

"He'll play cities against each other," Sarno said. "If Mr. Lucchino is serious about this, he couldn't find a better place than Springfield."

A rendering of a proposed $240 million project anchored by Polar Park in Worcester's Canal District.