WORCESTER — Polar Park is taking shape in downtown Worcester in a fashion. The progress has both team and city officials hopeful about the possible completion of the ballpark for the Worcester Red Sox’ inaugural season as the Triple A affiliate of the Red Sox.
Ballpark designer Janet Marie Smith, who led a media tour of the project Monday, estimated that construction work is 40-50 percent complete. That progress in turn opens the possibility that despite the seven-week construction shutdown from April to mid-May due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ballpark still could be completed in time for the start of the 2021 minor league season.
“Our goal is to be finished,” said Smith. “We’re optimistic. Until we have a new plan, that’s our plan.”
A number of ballpark elements were on display Monday. Dugouts, an infield grandstand, and the Worcester Wall — a 22-foot-high right field fence that evokes (but does not replicate) Fenway’s famed left field wall — were a few of the signature element that have now taken form. Though rain muddied the site, the field’s layout was also on display.
“Less than a year ago, this was a big parking lot with a road through it,” said city manager Edward Augustus Jr., reflecting that the site’s groundbreaking had occurred last July 11. “You can see the progress that’s been made. It’s pretty amazing. Even with the COVID timeout that we had, amazing progress has been made . . . Right now, we’re still working on that beginning of April goal.”
Several aspects of the design have been set, while others are gaining definition.
“The stage that we’re at now, the bones of this are set, the structure is set, the profile of the seats, the scoreboard, the big-picture things,” said Smith. “But we’re working very closely with the team and our designers to give it the jewelry and the gold dust that makes the place special.”
The park is nestled into Worcester’s Canal District — a challenging undertaking given the sloping streets and varying elevations. But the site’s location will thus yield a wide variety of vantage points from which to view the game and to several surrounding landmarks.
“It’s amazing how nestled in this ballpark is,” said Augustus. “It’s not some spaceship that landed on the edge of the city. It’s something that’s kind of part of the fabric of the city. That was a very intentional thing.”
When completed, the ballpark with have what team officials are calling “occupancy” of up to 10,000 spectators. There will be fewer than 10,000 traditional seats, but the team envisions additional entrants who can watch the game from picnic areas, on a berm, in suites, or from other spaces inside the park.
The Triple A affiliate announced plans to move from its longtime home in Pawtucket to Worcester in August 2018, with an eye on moving into a new ballpark for the 2021 season. The construction shutdown of April 1 raised questions about the feasibility of that goal.
But while there is no guarantee that the project can be completed for the start of next season, the possibility remains given the progress that has occurred. Augustus noted that although COVID-19 construction protocols might add to the cost of a project that was estimated in January at $99.4 million, such increases are expected to be relatively minor. City officials saw Monday as evidence that their years-long efforts to introduce the Worcester Red Sox may become a reality in just over nine months.
“It’s coming together,” said Worcester mayor Joe Petty. “People are looking forward to the day this opens up. I think it’s important for the psyche of Worcester to continue this project, and I think people will be happy when it’s done.”