By Melissa Hanson
In order to put pen to paper and create an innovative and intimate 10,000-seat baseball stadium, the minds behind the Triple-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox have had to study Worcester.
But a glimpse of what that ballpark will offer was given when Pawtucket Red Sox Chairman Larry Lucchino, President Charles Steinberg and General Manager Dan Rea sat down for an interview with MassLive.
The stadium plan is just in the beginning concept stages -- not even ready for design or first renderings -- but Lucchino and his team have some ideas of what they hope Polar Park will be and how it will come together.
Here are 10 things we learned about Polar Park from Lucchino, Steinberg and Rea.
The team wants community input
Community input is huge for Lucchino and his team.
"This is the fifth ballpark that I've worked on in my career and the same formula applies here and that is you talk to the users, the constituents, the fans, the groundskeepers, the players, the neighbors, the public transportation people," Lucchino said. "You talk to as many different constituents as you can, you build out the ballpark that way, as opposed to something that we came into town with a notion that it's fully developed. It isn't."
The Canal District could bring a unique chance for player-fan interaction
Steinberg said Worcester residents could become neighbors with some of the Triple-A players who will call Polar Park home.
"You're going to have ballplayers who will want to live right around the Canal District," Steinberg imagined. "They will want to wake up and go to BirchTree bakery and have their breakfast, walk over to the ballpark, maybe walk out for dinner after the game."
And with players potentially living right in the Canal District, there will be a unique chance for athletes to connect with the city's youth.
"Three words from a ballplayer, from a 22-year-old ballplayer to a 12-year-old boy or girl can be etched on their souls. If it's, 'stay in school,' 'don't do drugs,' 'do your homework,' 'trust your instincts,' you're going to have, we hope, this intimate player-fan interaction and there's a real craving for that in general," Steinberg said. "I think we're seeing in Worcester, and in Central Mass., where there is such a good feel for baseball and good feel for Red Sox, that's gonna really be an unusual thing when players live right in your neighborhood. That's a cool boost."
Polar Park will reflect architecture, style of Canal District and Green Island
PawSox executives are adamant that the ballpark will have to fit into Worcester.
To accomplish that goal, the stadium will queue off architecture in the Canal District and Green Island neighborhood.
"It's been great to start to learn the city and learn the nuances, physically from an urban standpoint, sociologically from the dynamics of the people," Steinberg said. "I think that helps shape the thoughts as Larry (Lucchino) and Janet Marie Smith and the architectural teams start to take pencil to paper."
Sights will not just be on the architecture of the area, but also its unique local shops and restaurants.
"We want it to be a pedestrian friendly neighborhood district," Lucchino said.
Larry Lucchino envisions an intimate park with greenery, family activities
Lucchino says the team has high aspirations for Polar Park.
The attractions won't be generic, he promised.
"We want it to be customized to this area. We'd like it to be small and intimate and we'd like it to be multi-dimensional, so it has uses year-round and plenty of public park opportunity and greenery," Lucchino said. "Those are some of the thoughts, a lot of stuff for kids and families and yet still recognize that it's a part of a larger district. We're just a ballpark here, there's a Canal District, there's Green Island, there's all these neighborhoods around us, we need to fit in to the neighborhood as well and be an asset to the neighbors."
Fans still have time to help pick the team's name
While the organization is officially called "The Worcester Red Sox," the name and any mascots for the team that will play in Worcester come 2021 have not yet been decided.
It's another topic that Lucchino's team wants plenty of public input on.
"We have until April 2021 to open this ballpark, certainly we're not going to wait that long, but we want to get significant community input into this name," Lucchino said. "It's fun to talk about the name."
Fans can suggest ideas on the Polar Park website.
The game experience will focus on young people, from children to Worcester's college community
Young people will be a focus at Polar Park.
"I think that if you're an 8-year-old kid or an 11-year-old kid, you want to go to the ballgame, especially if we can provide this innovative experience that blends the traditions and blends that which an 11-year-old is going to find stimulating and inspiring all nine innings, plus before the game and after the game," Steinberg said. "I think if you focus on the children, whether it's the preteens, whether it's the teens, or the college market, I think that becomes your core."
The group sees baseball as a unifier but attracting young people as a way to keep families consistently coming back for games.
"If you only live 20 minutes away, or 25 minutes away or a half-hour away, maybe 45 minutes away, why wouldn't you come to a good experience that's warm, welcoming and hospitable," Steinberg said.
With 13 colleges in the Worcester area, sights will also be on attracting young adults to games and helping the city retain young professionals after they graduate.
Ballpark designers will work together with public, private partners for project
Lucchino, Janet Marie Smith and the architects and engineers working on Polar Park are not just going to focus on the stadium.
The goal is to make sure the ballpark fits in with the development around it and into the existing neighborhood, all while Kelley Square is being renovated by MassDOT.
"This is not three projects," Lucchino said. "This is not infrastructure and Kelley Square and development and ballpark. This is one project. They should talk to each other throughout and that ensures a neater fit into the fabric of the neighborhood."
Cooperation from the city and state has been a "vivid contrast" to what the team experienced in Rhode Island, Lucchino said.
Concessions will reflect Worcester's growing food scene
"We have an opportunity to do something really special, and the last thing we want is some generic, ordinary, 'This has been done everywhere else so let's do it here' kind of food and beverage opportunity," Steinberg said.
Worcester has its share of popular staples.
"What a remarkable opportunity we have in Worcester to resonate with the culinary community, from as traditional in baseball to hot dogs, maybe Coney Island hot dogs, and as traditional in Americana as apple pie, and maybe it's Table Talk Pies," Steinberg said. "You see how popular Wormtown brewery is, you see how popular Shrewsbury Street is."
The franchise plans to hire a diverse workforce
Lucchino says the franchise has a proven track record of hiring a diverse workforce. And in coming to Worcester, the team has seen a community that would help accomplish that goal.
"One of the things that's remarkable about this city how proud the city is of a multi-cultural harmony," Steinberg said. "People have been telling us that, we've been seeing it.
"If you want a ballpark that looks and feels and smells and tastes like Worcester," Steinberg continued, "then you want it to be a neighborhood and an organization that demonstrates that, so that's something we can embrace."
"I think we'll be able to stand with some sense of pride because of our commitment to those issues," Lucchino said.
Lucchino said the "proof is in the pudding" when it comes to hiring a diverse workforce, citing his track record at other projects.
More partnerships with businesses, higher education forthcoming
While the franchise has already announced a partnership with Assumption College, a "drumbeat" of partnerships within and beyond higher education are expected to be announced in the coming weeks, months and years.
One of those partners will likely be Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
"We're still working through the specifics," Rea said. "We've met with the president, Laurie Leshin, there and her team. They've been fantastic and very eager. We're working through some of the specifics. That's one of the forthcoming partnerships you'll be hearing about."
The executives said there will be a "drumbeat" of partnerships leading up to 2021.
"I think you'll find that the path to Polar Park will be laden with a sequence of announcements and celebrations that will be milestones on this journey," Steinberg said.