By Walter Bird Jr.
It was, perhaps, more about what happened this year than who made it happen. Many call it the biggest news ever to have been made in Worcester. Some are skeptical about its long-term viability, but the fact remains: The Pawtucket Red Sox, who for decades have swatted baseballs and fielded pop flies at an ever-aging McCoy Stadium in Rhode Island, are now signed on the dotted line to start playing ball in Worcester in 2021. They will do so in a brand-spankin’ new, $86-$90-million ballpark (the team reached a deal with Polar Beverages on the naming rights to Polar Park) smack in the city’s Canal District, part of a $100-plus-million deal.
What once was seen as the longest of long shots is on the path to reality, this fair city so often referred to as “a gritty mill town” pulling the proverbial rug out from out under its sister state to the south. It was more like a swift tug that sent local and state leaders in Rhode Island tumbling to the ground. Actually, what Worcester did was take advantage of a state that couldn’t seem to get out of its own way, that appeared to think there was no way the PawSox would ever leave. Heck, even many in the team’s front office felt that way. They saw themselves as Rhode Islanders. They thought they’d stay there. They wanted to stay there.
Worcester Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2018 are The Dealmakers, with City Manager Ed Augustus Jr. and PawSox Chair Larry Lucchino the chief architects. Here, through their words and recollections, and those of others who held helped put it all together, is a look at the two principals behind the negotiations to convince the PawSox to pick up anchor in the Ocean State and relocate to Worcester.
SHARING A VISION
PawSox President Dr. Charles Steinberg remembers the first time he visited Worcester as the deal was still being hammered out. He wasn’t at the table for early negotiations, but around May this year, Lucchino had called for Steinberg, who had been spending several days a week in Milwaukee working on the memoirs of former Major League Baseball Commissioner “Bud” Selig, to get involved. Things were heating up between the team and Worcester. So Steinberg paid a visit.
“But,” he said, “I believed we were staying in Pawtucket, and I believed we should stay in Pawtucket. I was not treating Worcester seriously.”
By that point, Lucchino was taking the city quite seriously. A master negotiator known for combing through even the tiniest of details, he was seeing the writing on the wall in Rhode Island, even if part of him still held out hope for a last-minute miracle. After all, his group had put forth a pretty sweet deal to build a new stadium in Pawtucket. While there was a brief courting of Providence, they were ready to build anew in Pawtucket. Lucchino had a great relationship with Mayor Don Grebien — “He liked and even loved the mayor of Pawtucket” is how Steinberg described Lucchino’s relationship with Grebien — and while the same could not be said for his, or the team’s, feelings toward some in the Rhode Island Legislature, there was something to be said for loyalty to a place the PawSox had called home since 1970.
“Oh yeah, certainly before Charles,” Lucchino said of when he realized Worcester was more than just a possibility.
The team had stayed true to a period of exclusivity with Pawtucket until mid-2017, when it expired. Other cities and towns were ready to make a pitch; Worcester certainly wasn’t on its own, but as casual overtures turned more serious, and days turned into weeks, weeks into months — and as politics in Rhode Island continued to stumble along in negotiations with the PawSox — this city some 42 miles to Pawtucket’s north became a frontrunner.
“It’s very hard to focus on a date or a month” when he realized Worcester was a realistic alternative to Rhode Island, Lucchino said, “but along the way I learned about Worcester, what was happening in Worcester. It was more about my education on Worcester than it was about my education on ballparks. As I heard or saw more about the development, revitalization, downtown activity, downtown focus, saw the track record.
“I said, ‘Well, this is something special and we don’t have to be the solitary party igniting this downtown revitalization. It’s already happening. We can fit nicely into that puzzle.’”
Almost from the very beginning, according to both Augustus and Lucchino, and to those who were in the same rooms and at the same tables with them, the two men shared a vision for what a ballpark would look like in Worcester.
Actually, “the beginning” isn’t quite accurate, because while the city reached out in late 2016 to express interest (an expression made over dinner between Augustus, Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tim Murray, Lucchino, his wife and two others, former state Sen. Robert Travaglini and his former chief of staff Arthur Bernard, at Toscano in Boston.), the team at that point was still dancing only with Pawtucket. Other suitors had to stand to the side, hoping for a chance to cut in. Lucchino made it clear then the team was not going to entertain other offers. When the time came, and when the PawSox and Worcester started negotiating in earnest, the vision came into sharper focus.
“Once we started meeting,” Lucchino said, “it was clear there were opportunities here to build more than a ballpark, and we agreed on that right from the get-go.”
Said Augustus: “We didn’t want to build a functional ballpark with no extras. We wanted to figure out how to do something that was going to be special, be unique, something that was going to be a ‘wow’ and that would energize the whole area around it. It wouldn’t just be 68 home games, but concerts and other times people would be drawn to the city.”
When all was said and done, the city and team had agreed on a project that would, in addition to a ballpark, feature $90 million in private development, with Denis Dowdle of Madison Downtown Holdings LLC bringing that piece together. The two-phase project includes 225 market-rate apartments, a 150-room hotel, a second boutique hotel and 65,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space as part of first phase. Phase 2 is expected to include 200,000 square feet of residential, office and/or mixed-use development. The ballpark, which the city will own, will host a minimum of 135 events per year, including local sporting events and other activities. More than 500 full-time and 2,000 part-time jobs are expected to be generated, including construction. The city, meanwhile, will be able to host up to eight revenue-generating events and 10 community-oriented days at the ballpark. Conference and meeting space will also be available for civic functions, and the ballpark will serve as a polling location. Additionally, each Worcester student will receive a free ticket to a game each season. They will also have the opportunity to play games at the ballpark. The city will also receive two $25,000 donations from the team, in 2019 and 2020, to help fund its Recreation Worcester program. The state is involved as well, putting up $35 million in new funding. The state Department of Transportation will be reconfiguring Kelley Square, something the state says would have been done eventually, at a quicker pace to facilitate the project.
All parties, it seems, agreed from the beginning there would be more to a partnership in Worcester than just bats and balls and players on the field. Renowned architect Janet Marie Smith, who has worked with Lucchino on Camden Yards in Baltimore and the Fenway Park expansion in Boston, said that was precisely the idea.
“I think we all felt our interests were aligned,” Smith said, “that we all had the same goal. It was a shared vision between Larry and Ed and your mayor to bring baseball not just to Worcester, but to this particular site, and really grow the Canal District, which is a little bit of a seed that grew out of nothing. They took those things that had authenticity and they built on it.”
It was that shared vision that stood out almost immediately to Kim Miner, executive vice president and general counsel for the PawSox. As an attorney for the team, she was crucial to hammering out the details.
“The first time Ed and Larry spoke,” Miner said, “I saw they were speaking the same language about the project.”
A TALE OF TWO NEGOTIATORS
Tough,′ ‘tenacious,’ ‘fierce’ would definitely qualify,” Augustus said.
He was describing as a negotiator the man with whom, for the better part of the past year and a half, he had spent putting together the deal to bring minor league baseball to Worcester.
“He’s negotiated with how many players? How many mayors and governors and others about different deals he’s been involved in? He certainly understands the art of negotiating,” Augustus said of Lucchino.
To call Lucchino a seasoned negotiator would be among the grossest of understatements. There is, those who know and work with him say, a burning passion that drives him.
“He loves sports, loves competition,” Steinberg said of the man he first met in 1979.
Steinberg, who joined the Baltimore Orioles as an intern in 1976, had become a statistician for then-manager Earl Weaver. In August 1979, attorney Edward Bennett Williams, founder of the law firm Williams and Connolly and president of the National Football League’s Washington Redskins, bought the Orioles. Williams brought with him one of his firm’s partners, his protege, Larry Lucchino.
A basketball player in his days at Princeton University, where he played with former New York Knick and U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley and went to the NCAA Final Four in 1965, Lucchino would become president of the Orioles in 1988 and is regarded as the visionary behind Camden Yards and Petco Park in San Diego. He served as president and CEO of the Red Sox, helping lead the team in 2004 to its first World Series championship since 1918.
You could call him competitive, “pathologically so,” according to Steinberg. Lucchino, he said, “is intrinsically aggressive.”
In short, the man with whom Augustus was negotiating had been to this rodeo many times before. When it comes to negotiations, “No detail is too small or too minute” for Lucchino, PawSox General Manager Dan Rea said. “He can and will delegate, but he also likes to be in thorough control of the negotiations, so there’s nothing he’s going to say, ‘I don’t have time for that.’ He’s a tough negotiator, but very fair. He doesn’t pull punches.”
It is fair to say Augustus, who councilors named city manager in January 2014 at the urging of Mayor Joe Petty, had never previously negotiated a deal as complex as this one. He has dealt with local unions and worked with developers wanting to build in the city. But this was, to borrow a pun, a whole new ballgame.
A St. John’s High School grad who attended Suffolk University, Augustus leaned toward politics. He was never much into sports and wouldn’t count himself a huge baseball fan.
“Maybe that’s the most unlikely part of this whole thing,” he said. “Somebody who’s probably the least athletic person ever to be city manager to be the one who was actually part of [bringing a baseball team to Worcester].”
In 1989, at 24 years old, Augustus became the youngest person ever elected to citywide office in Worcester when he won a seat on the School Committee. He worked on the campaign of U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern, serving as his chief of staff after McGovern was elected. Augustus went on to serve as a state senator for four years, followed by a stint as executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund of California. In 2010, he ran McGovern’s re-election campaign, then joined the College of the Holy Cross as director of government and community relations.
When former City Manager Mike O’Brien, after almost 10 years running the city, resigned in late 2013, Worcester went looking for his successor. Backed by Petty, Augustus was initially hired in January 2014 on a nine-month contract, the expectation being he would return to Holy Cross when the contract expired. Except it didn’t. In September 2014, Augustus accepted a three-year extension.
While he had his critics — some, noting his lack of municipal experience, saw his appointment as politically-motivated — the city manager has received glowing reviews during his annual evaluation by councilors and is credited with not only maintaining the momentum on the city’s downtown development, but building upon it. He is described as a listener and collaborator, someone who loves the city where he grew up and whose prior political experience has helped Worcester grab the attention of state and federal officials. He came in with no City Hall experience, but if there’s such a thing as learning on the job, Augustus appears to have excelled at it.
Still, until the PawSox, he had not sealed a deal like the one the city was negotiating with the PawSox.
“We have a great city team as part of this, but we also understood right from the get-go we had gaps in our expertise that needed to be filled,” Augustus said, with a nod to the two consultants the city brought on board for negotiations: Jeff Mullen with the law firm Foley Hoag and a former Massachusetts secretary of transportation, and Andy Zimbalist, the Robert A. Woods professor economics at Smith College and author who had been critical of publicly-funded ballparks.
″[Mullen] filled in the gaps, all the nuances, all the right languages,” Augustus said. “He and [Miner] did that. They made sure both of them were looking out for each other’s interest. Andy was important because ... we wanted it to be as bulletproof as possible. We didn’t want to be Pollyanna and be kind of extravagant in our enthusiasm for the project, that maybe we overreach in our assumptions in the pro forma. We wanted Andy, who would maybe be a little more dispassionate. He knew the world of baseball, which of course we didn’t know.”
Lucchino doesn’t buy into any portrayal of Augustus as a neophyte at the negotiating table. Effusive in his praise of the city manager—“thorough,” “conscientious,” “largely unflappable” are some of the terms he used—he laughed off the idea that Augustus may have been at a disadvantage sitting across the table from a team of veteran businessmen who have brokered so many complex deals.
“Oh no, I take that with a grain of salt,” Lucchino said when it was mentioned this was the first large-scale negotiation Augustus had taken part in as city manager. “It was his way of saying, ‘Hey, you guys have been here before. What do I know?’ No, I didn’t sense an amateurism at all. On the contrary, a deep professionalism.”
Lucchino and Augustus sat in the Levi Lincoln room on the third floor of City Hall on a Friday afternoon in mid-August — the 17th, to be exact — before a bevy of media, business leaders, elected officials and others to announce they had signed a letter of intent to move the PawSox to Worcester. They showered praise on many, including Canal District Alliance President Gene Zabinski, who along with his wife spearheaded a campaign that saw some 10,000 postcards sent to the PawSox urging them to move to Worcester. The team admits the effort carried some influence.
When it was his time to speak, the city manager was visibly moved by an unexpected standing ovation. He had been directed many months earlier by his City Council bosses to do everything reasonable to pry the team from Rhode Island’s grasp — and he had delivered.
A month later, he and the team would be feted again in a celebration that started on City Common, where the likes of Red Sox legend Pedro Martinez and others turned out, and stretched into the Canal District, where thousands poured into the streets to celebrate the deal.
It didn’t happen overnight, and there were moments of pause along the way, but Augustus and Lucchino had found among their differences enough similarities to keep them from walking away when the going got rough. The city manager, Petty said, showed restraint in not abandoning negotiations during trying times.
“The patience he had negotiating,” Petty said of one of Augustus’s strengths. “He could have walked away several times and he didn’t. He knew this was important for Worcester and wanted to get it done.
It was, perhaps, the vision Augustus and Lucchino shared that kept them at the table.
“The thing I would say is negotiations, especially this long and complex, you get fatigued, you’re talking about the same point for the 20th time and, you know, sometimes frustrations would creep in, or whatever,” Augustus said. “One thing I always appreciated, Larry and I never had a harsh word between us. We could make a strong point, but we always kept our relationship in a good place. I think when we’d have a bad session, or either side came away feeling like they didn’t like the way the last session went, Larry and I could have kind of a behind-the-scenes conversation, kind of reset things, so the next one would be a little more productive, kind of shave over some of those rough edges.”
From his perspective, Zimbalist saw in Augustus someone who was not bowled over by Lucchino’s prowess around the negotiating table. The city manager’s political experience, he said, came in handy. Like Petty, Zimbalist said patience also played a crucial role.
“Larry is really skilled and effective at what he does,” Zimbalist said. “He also drives a really hard bargain and he pushes really hard. He’s not the easiest person to negotiate with. I think Ed was able to break through a lot of the stuff that makes Larry difficult to get us at reasonable points of compromise.”
Asked what made Lucchino “difficult,” Zimbalist said, “He’s a really tough negotiator and he’s a successful and seasoned negotiator. It’s not easy to strike a good bargain with him for that reason. If you’re not on top of your game Larry will take advantage of you. Ed was on top of his game.”
As he worked to convince team officials Worcester would make a suitable home for the next 30 or so years, Augustus and his city team—core members included Mullen, Zimbalist, Chief Development Officer Mike Traynor, Chief Financial Officer Tom Zidelis, Department of Public Works & Parks Commissioner Paul Moosey, City Solicitor David Moore, Jake Sanders, the city’s coordinator of intergovernmental affairs and municipal initiatives, and Heather Gould, a former employee under Traynor—used the entire city to make his case.
In short, Augustus went mobile. From a meeting last summer at Lock 50 that resulted in two groups separating for tours of the Canal District and proposed ballpark site, to gatherings at places one would not typically associate with deal making, to an overnighter on the Cape, this brand of negotiating took on a much different feel than what was going on in Rhode Island. To some extent, Augustus can credit the local media for that.
“The moving around was a result of the press seeing us [at City Hall], or hearing we were here and staking us out,” Augustus acknowledged. “I was like, ‘Let’s not do this again.’ What I really didn’t want, and this is, I think, part of what helped, I wanted space to do this negotiation. I saw what happened in Rhode Island when there was no space, and [everyone] was reading into it or a leak would come out, it leaves you less room to figure things out.
“I didn’t want that. And I really wanted to build that trust. It also ended up allowing us to show the city.”
Members of the negotiating teams on both sides held meetings — some formal, others less so — at places such as the American Antiquarian Society on Park Ave., where, according to Augustus, the archivist showed off “cool baseball stuff,” Hanover Theatre, Mechanics Hall, the Beechwood Hotel, even the westside home of UMass Medical School Chancellor Michael Collins.
“We moved around to undisclosed locations to give us this space, but also to show off the depth and contours of the city, the cultural assets, the cool, different neighborhoods in the city,” Augustus said. “We had a couple [sessions] down there in Pawtucket, then we did the one on the Cape, which was overnight.”
The mobile nature of familiarizing PawSox officials with their future home saw the younger members of the negotiating teams get together at night, too. Sanders remembers a group of them getting together early on the in process.
“We brought them to Volturno. I think we opened their eyes to some of the opportunities here and built relationships,” Sanders recalled of a sort of bonding activity led by himself, and two other City Hall staffers: Che Anderson, project manager, and Eric Batista, chief of operations and project management. They went out with Rea; Miner; Bart Harvey, special assistant to the chairman; and Jack Verducci, director of corporate partnerships.
“There were a lot of 30-somethings that were quite involved and got to know each other, and saw the potential for Worcester,” Sanders said. “My perspective was to show the team what Worcester had to offer, like what’s Ralph’s, that sort of thing.”
Alas, he said, the crew didn’t make it to Ralph’s, one of Worcester’s most iconic watering holes and music spots.
“We did go the Dive Bar,” he said. “We did the whole Green Street thing, Water Street. That was just trying to build rapport. There were obviously some tough negotiations. We needed to put our best foot forward.”
The Cape meeting, held during the summer at the home of PawSox General Manager Dan Rea’s parents, blended formal negotiations and some down time to help the two sides get to know each other. Augustus stayed at his house on the Cape, convening with his team before meeting with the PawSox.
From a casual dinner in Boston some two years earlier, the two sides had already come a long way. It was nearing time to close the deal, which Augustus said did not happen until he called Lucchino Thursday morning Aug. 16, one day before the official announcement. Lucchino was at a funeral when he took the call.
“I think [the Cape Cod meeting] was a constructive fleshing out of many of the remaining issues,” Steinberg said. “I thought it went a long way to airing out and resolving many of the issues.”
Traynor said the meeting was “good in a number of different ways.” It was, he said, a different, more relaxed setting to continue negotiations.
“Everyone had to learn each other and learn to trust each other,” Traynor said. “You had to develop a friendly business relationship. I think that setting helped to further getting to know who you’re dealing with on somewhat of a personal level.”
Negotiations being what they are, the dealings between Worcester and the PawSox weren’t without tense moments, times when cooler heads needed to prevail. That, say those who observed them, is where Augustus and Lucchino excelled, although to say each didn’t have any bones of contention with the other wouldn’t be entirely accurate.
Unsurprisingly, the biggest hangups, according to the city manager, were about cost. While some observers believe the city gave up too much to land the PawSox — the team had been prepared to pay about 54 percent of the cost of a new stadium in Pawtucket, and will pay about 36 percent of the cost here — the two sides were debating to the end over the finances.
“I think Larry was very sensitive that he wanted a budget big enough and real enough to build a great ballpark,” Augustus said. “This is his legacy, too. He wanted to build a great ballpark. We share that vision, but I was always balancing that against what can we afford? I think, at the end, it was a lot that revolved around that macro-issue.”
Lucchino certainly wouldn’t say he got everything he wanted out of the deal, one that includes a reported pledge of roughly $3 million in corporate sponsorships. As both men tell it, Lucchino was concerned about the level of corporate support the city could drum up.
“It was very, very important,” Lucchino said. “We called it the Achilles’ heel of the deal. Ed, using his bully pulpit, gathered leaders of the business community together and they showed us this should not be be a concern, that there is a significantly-motivated and well-endowed business community here that cares about this city and would step up and make sure they did their part.”
“No, no, no, you never do,” he said when asked whether he got all he wanted from the agreement. “Both sides have to give and get.”
He didn’t want to get into exactly what he would have liked to see that didn’t make it into the final deal.
“I don’t know. I certainly don’t want to reopen that,” Lucchino said. “Both sides, I think, had to make some compromises.”
There were, he acknowledged, tension and disagreements, particularly over when to call it a day and agree to a deal. The city, it is safe to say, reached that point before the team.
“I think right at the end there are always final issues that have to be resolved,” Lucchino said. “I think Ed successfully communicated to me he was a point where we had to make a decision. There’s a tendency to sort of want to cover every detail. At some point, you need to know when the deadline is upon us. I think agreeing over what that deadline should be, you saw one of the friction points.”
For his part, Augustus pointed out the many puzzle pieces that needed to fit into the deal. There was a private developer, the state, the team’s interests and the city’s desires all requiring attention.
“As your discussion evolved,” Augustus aid, “sometimes that piece had to be removed from that spot and see how it could fit over here. There were other constituencies saying, ‘Hurry up, time is moving on.’ We had all the other kinds of pressure that were on top of negotiations that had to be factored in and managed.”
And that could lead to some tense situations, such as the Wednesday night before they officially sealed the deal, when Augustus journeyed to Lucchino’s house in Chestnut Hill for dinner.
“That was, what do they say in diplomatic terms, a candid exchange of views,” Lucchino said, without going into great detail. “I suppose there were a few [temper flare-ups], but we worked through it and we accepted the deadline the city was imposing.”
For someone who was new to negotiations on this scale, Augustus, say those who watched him at work, more than held his own. In fact, according to one of his longtime friends, Jay Ash, the state secretary of transportation and economic development who was among those representing the state during negotiations, Augustus is “the single biggest reason why this thing happened for Worcester.”
“I was impressed for Ed that he was able to negotiate with somebody who has negotiated billions of dollars of contracts before,” said Ash, who earlier this month announced he was leaving his role with the state. He has since been named CEO of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership. “While Ed’s negotiated union contracts and things like that, certainly not on the level Larry has. What impressed me most about Ed on this process, he was able to keep Larry’s interest in Worcester while not giving away the store. There were times I thought Ed might say, ‘OK, I’ll give in,’ and that would have been to the detriment to Worcester just to win the opportunity, and he smartly negotiated his way through things so he not only didn’t have to give in, but this is a really good deal for Worcester.”
For those who work with Augustus at City Hall on a daily basis, it wasn’t surprising to see how deftly he navigated his way through negotiations. That, they say, is the man they’ve always known.
“I saw what I always see on a day-to-day basis,” said Traynor. “A person who just loves this city, has a great passion to take this city to the next level. This process really showcased him. You would have never known he hadn’t sat down with negotiations like this. He had such vision in his ideas. It always amazes me how he always had that thought process, like a master chess player. He knows exactly what’s going to take place. He’s making a move now, because he knows there’s another move down the line.”
‘A BIG DAMN DEAL’
On a bitterly cold mid-Friday afternoon recently, Augustus and Lucchino, both sporting baseball jerseys with “Worcester” emblazoned across the front (a team name has not yet been finalized), stood in one of the parking lots off Madison Street that, if all goes according to schedule, will have given way to a baseball stadium by April 2021. They huddled in the general area of where home plate will be. There was a playful air about them. At one point, Lucchino took the bat he was holding for a photo shoot and started waving it like a sword in Augustus’s direction. The city manager held up his bat in similar fashion. There were jokes about whether those bats had been used during negotiations.
It was hard not to notice the look of anticipation on their faces. There is still much work to be done, including building the actual ballpark. While the long hours at the negotiating table may be over, time is still of the essence, and the eyes of a city, a state and from well beyond are on them like hawks. The PawSox, of course, still have a couple seasons left to play in Pawtucket, and are dealing with the fallout of their decision to leave. Worcester, meanwhile, has held its head high, like a proud lion having successfully hunted and bagged its prey.
Augustus and Lucchino both reflected on what they had accomplished, and what can still be accomplished, with the latter once again referencing the shared vision that shaped up near the beginning.
“We are building something that is different, distinctive, customized to Worcester,” Lucchino said. “We think that’s going to work for us. We think the site and design are going to work very well for the city.”
It all started sinking in for Augustus as he stood near where players will someday take swings for real inside Polar Park, where families will someday roam the concourse and fans will cheer on the top farm team of their favorite Major League club.
“It’s kind of ‘wow,’ when you take a step back,” he said, noting he, Lucchino and others had met for hours that day before they went to the site to meet a reporter. They had been talking about the ballpark design and other ideas.
“Some of that,” Augustus said, “was fresh in my mind as we were standing there. But if you get a chance to kind of step back, it’s like what a big damn deal this is for the city. Long after I’m not in this role, long after I’m not on this earth, probably, there’s people that are going to go to that spot and have amazing memories with their families, amazing experiences, fall in love with the city, be proud of their city, and I had an opportunity to play a role in that. That’s pretty satisfying.”