The Worcester Red Sox stadium project has always been on the pricey side as minor-league baseball stadiums go, both in terms of projected construction cost ($90 million) and projected public subsidy (around $100 million — yep, the builders were set to get more in tax kickbacks and infrastructure funds than they actually spent on construction — so news that it’s facing significant cost overruns is not really what anyone needed to hear:
Construction costs for Polar Park have increased by $9.5 million over initial estimates, while costs to acquire the properties needed for the ballpark, relocate businesses and prepare the site for development have run roughly $20 million more than what was anticipated.
That has prompted city officials to negotiate changes to the agreements with the ballclub that will be playing at Polar Park starting in 2021 and for the private development that will be built as part of the overall $240 million redevelopment of the Kelley Square/Canal District area.
These “negotiated changes” are that the team will cover the $9.5 million in increased construction costs, while the city will cover the $20 million in added land acquisition and site prep costs. Part of the team’s costs (according to the city manager’s report that starts on page 59 here) will be covered by a doubling of the 50-cent ticket fee that was planned for WooSox games; the city’s costs will be funded by increasing the size of the tax increment financing district where future rises in property tax revenues will be siphoned off and used to pay for land acquisition costs.
Worcester city manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. told the Worcester Telegram that the stadium “will continue to pay for itself” and that no “existing” taxpayer money will be diverted to pay for it, which is a clever bit of wordplay to get around the fact that $20 million in future tax money that would have gone to the city will now instead go to site prep costs — and if tax revenues don’t rise as much as expected, Worcester will absolutely have to dip into existing funds to cover the shortfall.
The best part of all this, though, is Augustus’s explanation for why the city’s site costs have risen so much:
“Due to a number of unknown factors, particularly related to business relocation costs, and the need for a more complicated retaining wall system resulting from the steep grade of the site, those costs total $20.69 million,” Augustus said.
I’m sorry, did you say “the steep grade of the site”? You mean despite years of planning, nobody noticed until now that the site is on a hill, and that when you cut into a hill you need to build retaining walls to keep the hill from falling on your new stadium? Clearly this was an unknown and unforeseeable factor, and not an example of lowballing projected costs so that local elected officials (and one economist, though not most) could think it was a better deal!