The Worcester City Council on Wednesday approved a $100.8 million stadium financing package to bring the Red Sox’s top farm team to central Massachusetts in a record-setting deal for a minor-league franchise.
A plan to move the club from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, to Worcester in 2021 still needs authorizations from the AAA International League — where the team competes — Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball. But an ownership group led by former Red Sox president Larry Lucchino has now cleared the highest hurdle in a three-year effort to find a new home.
Lucchino said in an interview after the vote that the club could secure the necessary signoffs from baseball officials by Monday.
The City Council voted, 9-1, to accept a relocation agreement negotiated by City Manager Edward Augustus Jr., whom the council tapped to lead talks with the team last year. The council’s economic development committee had recommended approval last week.
— Callum Borchers (@callumborchers) September 13, 2018
Councilor Konstantina Lukes cast the lone opposition vote, saying the city is rushing into the deal. A community benefits agreement that could include hiring quotas for Worcester residents, women and minorities is still under negotiation. Lukes argued that the council should not pass the financing package until the benefits agreement is signed.
The ballpark project’s nine-figure price tag is the biggest in minor-league sports history, according to Holy Cross economist Victor Matheson, who studies stadium financing. Wednesday’s council vote means Worcester can now take on as much as $100.8 million in bond debt for real estate, construction and other costs, though the city hopes to borrow slightly less.
The team will pay $6 million upfront for construction and sign a 30-year lease with payments covering $30.2 million of the city’s debt.
Worcester expects to pay off the remaining debt — and even turn a profit — with taxes and other revenue generated by the stadium and surrounding development. Planned projects include two hotels and an apartment building.
Some other cities that have financed minor-league baseball stadiums have failed to cover debt payments with new revenue, and have had to dip into their general funds. In public meetings since Worcester and the Red Sox’s AAA affiliate signed a letter of intent last month, city councilors acknowledged a degree of risk but consistently said the potential reward is worthwhile.