Worcester’s proposed new stadium for the Red Sox’s top farm team would be the most expensive minor league ballpark ever built, and most of the bill would be charged to taxpayers’ collective credit card. The city plans to take on as much as $100.8 million in bond debt.
City Manager Edward Augustus Jr., who led negotiations with the baseball club, contends that public revenue generated by the stadium and surrounding development will cover the debt — and even turn a profit for Worcester. He said at a City Council meeting this week that he’s confident a new stadium will pay dividends, partly because similar projects have worked out elsewhere.
“I’ve had a chance to visit the ballparks in Nashville and Durham and Charlotte,” Augustus said, “and I see ballparks that were in similarly situated areas that are now surrounded by housing, hotels, office parks, active use for retail and for entertainment.”
Despite appearances, the return on investment has been mixed for cities that funded minor league ballparks.
Nashville borrowed $65 million to build a stadium for the Oakland Athletics’ Triple-A affiliate. While there has been some surrounding development since First Tennessee Park opened in 2015, planned projects have moved more slowly than expected.
Toby Compton led the government agency that managed the ballpark project. He says he still believes new development will come through and that the stadium will pay off, but he acknowledges that new tax revenue isn’t keeping up with projections — and therefore isn’t covering the city’s annual debt payment.
“There’s a budget shortfall in the short term here that they’re going to have to make up somehow,” Compton said. “That’s true.”
The “somehow” has been extra taxpayer subsidies — $3.4 million over the past three years, according to the Tennessean.
Nashville City Councilor John Cooper argues that even if future construction closes the gap, a minor league baseball stadium isn’t really an economic engine.
“Our overall success as a tourist destination is clearly not part of this baseball project,” Cooper said. “Nobody here thinks of the minor league baseball park as driving much of that.”