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How The WooSox Could Birth A Central Massachusetts Building Boom


Worcester’s real estate community thinks a new Minor League Baseball team could be a home run for future development in central Massachusetts.

Conceptual design for Polar Park.

“Overall, economists don’t typically see stadium development as a net positive for a city in general. There are tax incentives, and the city usually gives the land away,” NAI Hunneman Director of Research Liz Berthelette said. “Where the benefit could come from is the surrounding area and bringing the people to the city where they wouldn’t have normally gone.”

Minor League Baseball’s Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox are poised to become the Worcester Red Sox when the team's lease expires at Pawtucket’s McCoy Stadium in 2020. The new Polar Park stadium in Worcester is estimated to cost between $86M and $90M and is slated to go up as part of a greater mixed-use project in the city's Canal District on a former Wyman-Gordon industrial site.

While the stadium will be the anchor of an 18-acre special tax district, developer Madison Downtown Holdings plans to construct 250 market-rate apartments, two hotels and 65K SF of retail and restaurant space in time for the first game in 2021, Worcester officials announced earlier this month. A second phase is expected to include 200K SF of residential, office and mixed-use development.

Developers in the area say the surrounding district will be a catalyst to finally expand the development boom underway 40 miles to the east in Boston and provide traffic to the city’s growing dining and retail scene.

A conceptual rendering of land surrounding the future Worcester baseball stadium used as a master-planning exercise.

“It’s the perfect situation, and I think everything is going to come together,” said developer Ed Murphy, the owner of the Worcester-based Baystate Investment Fund, who owns several properties around the future ballpark site.

Worcester had its own development boom in recent years before the PawSox announced their intention to morph into the WooSox. CitySquare, a $565M mixed-use multiphased development, is underway on the site of the old Worcester Common Outlets mall downtown. 

Roseland Residential Trust completed 145 Front St. at City Square earlier this year. Boston-based Trinity Financial is reportedly investing $55M to turn the former Worcester County Courthouse into 114 units of housing. 

“I think the increased cost of living in Boston and the improvement of Worcester’s reputation since 2008 has helped,” Murphy said. “A lot of people have come back home when, in the past, they may not have wanted to.”

A conceptual rendering of what mixed-use development might look like surrounding the Worcester stadium.

Worcester, the second-largest city in New England, is gaining residents for the first time in decades and is on track to surpass the 200,000 population mark for the first time since 1950

“One of the biggest hurdles that Worcester has and always had is retaining young people and students that go to all the schools there,” Berthelette said. “These developments will hopefully keep people in that area and not move to Boston.”

One way to prevent brain drain to Boston could come down to cost. The median home price in Boston is $588K, according to Zillow. In Worcester, it is just over $235K. Coupled with train service running to Boston’s South Station from Union Station in Worcester, affordability could be the city’s asset in convincing workers in Boston to head west when looking for a home. 

“We’re becoming a bedroom opportunity for the workers in Boston, but it’s getting more serious than that,” Canal District Alliance President Eugene Zabinski said.

Worcester, Mass.

Part of the reason the PawSox were drawn to Worcester is due to a campaign spearheaded by Zabinski and his business organization of mom-and-pop retailers, restaurateurs and shop owners in Worcester’s Canal District, where the baseball stadium is planned. The group sent over 10,000 postcards from residents to the PawSox owners to show there was support in their city for the team. While the baseball fan is happy to see a team come to his neighborhood, he is even happier about what might come next. 

“We’re building a core around the Canal District and downtown area. It’s a much more pleasant and livable area,” Zabinski said. “There’s no question more industries will follow. If you attract a lot of people to reside in your neighborhood, it stands to reason they’ll want to work close by.”

Zabinski’s business group may not be waiting long. Boston-based Colliers International Vice President Kevin Brawley, who has worked on subleasing deals at insurance company Unum's build-to-suit CitySquare office, said he has noticed engineering and life science companies attracted to Worcester. The companies want an outpost that is closer to workers who live in the area and to be connected to local institutions like UMass Medical School.  

While he still expects Boston to remain an employment hub, Brawley sees a niche for central Massachusetts. 

“You’ll always have those groups who automatically go to Boston,” he said. “But I think you’ll see some individuals retreat after they’ve had their time with Boston’s high prices and see there is a low-cost alternative in Worcester.”