More than two years after Worcester city officials announced the Pawtucket Red Sox were moving to the Canal District, there is no formal lease agreement legally obligating the team to come to Worcester.
And about six months before the minor league baseball team is scheduled to begin play in a new $132-million public stadium, the city government still doesn’t own the property on which its ballpark sits, even as construction on the project is well underway.
As the Worcester Business Journal notes, these are important omissions not so much because the Triple-A Red Sox really might back out of their move — they’re getting more money in subsidies than it was initially budgeted to build their stadium, why would they turn that down? — than because this gives the team huge leverage in negotiating lease terms, not to mention the stadium land’s private owners huge leverage in negotiating sale and development terms.
The biggest immediate issue, as the Worcester Business Journal points out, is cost overruns: The initial $90 million price tag for the stadium hit $132 million in January, and could yet surpass the $150 million Las Vegas Aviators stadium for priciest minor-league ballpark ever. The city covered the initial round of cost overruns — partly through direct cash, partly through money that the WooSox are putting up and then getting repaid via future ticket tax money that otherwise would have gone to the city — and are going to be hard-pressed to get the team owners to cover any future rounds, what with their ability to say, “Gee, I dunno, there are plenty of other cities we could still move to…”
“What’s unfortunate about this is this should have all been worked out up front,” Marquette sports law professor Martin Greenberg understated to the WBJ. “This is not usual.” City officials getting their heads handed to them in lease negotiations is sadly all too usual, but forgetting to actually sign the deal before building the stadium, that’s breaking new ground, yeah.