By Melissa Hanson
“This is not your father’s ballpark.”
That’s what Pawtucket Red Sox Chairman Larry Lucchino said to describe Polar Park, the 10,000-seat baseball stadium that will be the home of the Worcester Red Sox come 2021.
Lucchino, along with PawSox President Charles Steinberg and ballpark designer Janet Marie Smith, sat down with Worcester City Manager Edward Augustus Jr., a few city councilors and the architects designing the ballpark and its surrounding urban parks to offer a glimpse into what the development will look like.
Smith said the team was thinking of innovative ways to build the ballpark from everything down to the chairs.
“We aren’t all sitting in a chair with a number two pencil and keeping score the way we might imagine photographs of generations ago,” Smith said.
While the park will have a number of fixed seats, there will be “a number of areas that are very playful, very social, very flexible,” she said.
Polar Park won’t just be for hosting baseball games, Lucchino said. The space will be open to the public, a place for organizations and charities, perhaps even a place for residents to walk their dogs.
Designing the ballpark is Somerville-based D’Agostino Izzo Quirk Architects, the firm that worked on the renovation and expansion of Boston’s Fenway Park. And Watertown-based Sasaki has been brought on as a design consultant to handle urban and landscape design features for the ballpark as well as the associated private development.
That private development includes a 150-room hotel; a 100-room boutique hotel overlooking the ballpark; 250 market rate apartments; and 65,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space.
That development, along with the ballpark, estimated to cost between $86 and $90 million, is part of the overall $240 million development plan that will transform Worcester’s Canal District.
“Can the outfield concourse be open all the time?” asked Tommy Quirk of DAIQ, a Worcester native. “Yes, we’re looking at that.
“Obviously you don’t want people walking into the building willy nilly when the building’s closed,” Quirk added, “but we feel that there’s probably a way to locate the secure limit of the building in a way that maximizes pedestrian access to the spaces around the park.”
There’s a chance the outfield could be open, too.
“To the extent possible for security, liability, other reasons, it’s our hope that most of the outfield, from let’s say first base to third base around may be totally accessible when the ballpark’s closed,” Quirk said. “That’s a hope. Whether we can achieve it, I don’t know.”
Streets around the ballpark could have a similar use to Jersey Street, formerly known as Yawkey Way, around Fenway Park.
“When there is no game and that’s a public street you can walk right up to the overlooks and look into the ballpark," Quirk imagined.
Just because DAIQ worked on Fenway does not mean Polar Park will have its own Green Monster. Fitting into the Canal District and the Green Island neighborhood are key parts of the design process.
“We’ve asked the design team to think about what’s right for Worcester and not what happens at every other ballpark,” Smith said.
Around the ballpark, public spaces could have moveable furniture and games.
“Part of the beauty of this idiosyncratic kind of space that we’re tucking ourselves into in the middle of Worcester is that we’re going to have not just one big, public, open space, but a series of them,” said Susannah Ross of Sasaki. “They all invite play. They all in some ways reflect the history of Worcester and the uniqueness of Worcester, whether that’s water or elements related to the trains, to the diners, to all the really cool things, the candlepin bowling, things that were born here in Worcester.”
Polar Park is expected to break ground in July. The stadium will be complete before the 2021 baseball season.
“The ballpark is a magnet for people and we want to reward them when they come to it,” Augustus said. “We don’t want to have them get a big wall in their face or a big gate in their face or a big fence in their face. We want to reward them with a view of the ballpark or an engaging public space.”
While specific design features have not been decided, the design team wants to make the transition from neighborhood to ballpark seamless.
“We certainly want it to feel like it’s comfortable in the neighborhood, and certainly along Madison Street we want to activate that street with public uses like a team store, a sports bar perhaps, some sort of activating the street so it feels like a real city street, not like a wall that keeps you out,” Quirk said. “We’re going to take everything into account so it feels like it belongs in the neighborhood ... when you’re walking through the Canal District and you make the turn and you come down Madison Street, you should feel like you’re still walking through a district.”
The group also spoke about goals of making the ballpark accessible for all people.
Augustus said there have been talks with the Worcester Regional Transit Authority about adding a bus stop to Madison Street.
One entrance to the ballpark, which will be located where the General Pickett parking lot is at the opening of Green Street, is about a block away from the WRTA hub next to Union Station.
Meanwhile, MassDOT is spearheading the reconstruction of Kelley Square, the top crash location in the state, and also the intersection that will become a gateway to Polar Park.
Work on the intersection is slated to be complete a few months ahead of the first pitch at Polar Park.