The ballpark really is so ugly

Inside and out, you have to admit it

Hello all this is a Worcester Sucks post brought to you by the Sunday Scaries. I’ve got a lot swirling around in my broken little noggin but before I get into it I want to make sure you saw that I had a post run in Welcome To Hell World earlier this week on the nurses’ strike at St. V’s. 

Luke O’Neil has been one of my favorite writers for some time now and I would have never quit my job at Worcester Magazine and launched this newsletter had he not given me a template to rip off. Before I launched it I hit him up for advice or at least to talk me off the ledge if it was a really bad idea and the conversation ended with him saying “then fuck it” and that’s what I said to myself when I sent my resignation email. He’s great, Welcome to Hell World is great, and if you aren’t familiar with his work I highly suggest you check it out. I particularly liked this piece of his the other day about live music and loneliness and Amazon workers pissing in bottles and other things. And thanks again Luke for giving me some space to get the word out about that infuriating situation, really appreciate it. 

Now anyway can we just talk for a second about how hideously ugly Polar Park is? Like how it looks like they went over to the train yard across the highway and stole a bunch of shipping containers and cut the sides off and threw the sides up on the building facade? 

It’s stunning that this is the design we ended up with when we were pitched mini Camden Yards back when the city manager decided to get us into this whole mess. I mean we were promised a brick facade, folks. He pitched a project that has the potential to financially cripple the city for very little gain other than “Red Sox + Worcester = Good”  but at least he pitched something that looked nice. Now we have a ballpark equivalent of an essay you write for class at 2 a.m. the night before it’s due. The adderall is wearing off and you check the word count and you say good enough fuck it and send it off. 

This is what we were promised. 

And that is not what we got. Not even close.

Polar Park is the most expensive minor league ballpark ever built, mind you. We’re in the hole a whopping $157 million for this massive self storage container and I don’t know if you’ve been down there but all that other private development across the street that was supposed to come and help pay off the construction loan is ummm not there. And it’s not looking like there will be anything there in a hurry.

And the second most expensive one over in Las Vegas has the decency to actually look nice. Oh and it also seats more people. 

Polar Park is very middle-of-the-road in that regard. There are plenty of larger parks that cost a lot less money in the Triple A circuit. So you have a park that is smaller and uglier than average and it’s the most expensive and that’s a title I’d really prefer the city not have.

When it comes to cost overruns the pandemic is very much to blame. I mean they had to stop work for like three months and still hit deadlines to host the 2021 season. But the unforeseeable nature of the pandemic illustrates the extreme risk we took in building this ballpark for a team that could easily afford to build its own damn park. We didn’t have to do that. We were tricked by the team and by a whole ethos of economic development that if we didn’t spend this money and take this risk we would miss out on a huge opportunity for the city. It would go somewhere else like New Bedford and are we really going to lose to New Bedford?

Stupid games, stupid prizes is what I’m saying. I really didn’t want to write about the ballpark and how downright hilariously ugly it is. It’s sort of fitting, if you think about it. So Worcester it hurts. I figured a sassy tweet was enough on that. But then GBH released a very, very good investigative story on the ballpark construction contractor’s falsified diversity requirement claims. The story shows that however ugly the ballpark is on the outside, it’s just as ugly on the inside. 

The story, which ran Thursday, is titled “Worcester Spent More Than $100 Million Building Polar Park. Minority Companies Got Peanuts.”

Of more than $100 million in construction contracts awarded for the project, less than 1% went to a certified minority-owned business, a GBH News investigation has found.

The city of Worcester and Polar Park construction manager Gilbane/Hunt provided GBH News with spending reports which claimed that minority-owned firms had been awarded 4% of the construction contracts and women-owned firms had received 13% of the work, for a total of 17% — close to the project’s combined goal of 20% for women and minorities.

But those reports were incorrect. Gilbane/Hunt claimed credit for payments to minority-owned companies that are not in fact minority-owned. It also claimed payments to companies that were higher than what those companies say they were actually paid.

For example, the 4% minority figure Gilbane/Hunt provided includes a contract for $1,083,908 to a company called Rebars and Mesh. That is a state-certified woman-owned firm, not a minority business.

Gilbane/Hunt also said it had paid $2,737,800 to two minority-owned businesses, Don Martin Corporation and SUR Construction. GBH news confirmed with the company presidents that they received a combined total of approximately $173,000 in contracts.

The diversity commitments in construction spending were thrown into the deal as a way to show the public that the money was going to be spread around and help the community. Fitting, I think, that this part was fudged. Of course the ballpark was never about helping the community. Of course overtures to how it would were contrived and tenuously thin and only tossed in to make people feel better about giving this sports franchise so much public money. If GBH didn’t do the digging here city leaders would have lauded having almost met the diversity requirement as progress. See? We care! 17 percent! Not bad!

After a few days Gilbane / Hunt, the Polar Park contractor, copped to filing inaccurate diversity reports with the city but they blamed their subcontractors. 

Neil Benner, a project executive with Gilbane, told the redevelopment authority the company had been relaying figures to the city based on work its subcontractors planned to pass along to minority and women-owned companies, not the actual expenditures with those businesses.

“For various reasons, we have had some attempts at goals by our [subcontractors] that did not work out for various reasons,” Benner said. “And that's the reason why the percentage is lower now than it was at the time, at the time of award.”

Gilbane had not followed up to see if those goals had been met, but issued the reports with outdated information.

Seems to me an error you would catch if you cared to but what do I know. 

As GBH points out the issue of minority owned and women owned contractors getting shafted in public contracts is a problem across the state. It happens all the time in Boston and elsewhere. Specifically in Boston, GBH reported the city acknowledged that less than one percent of contracts went to minority owned or woman owned businesses over the past five years. 

Writing these sort of requirements into development contracts then utterly failing time and time again to honor them but facing no repercussions whatsoever is. . . not good? Pretty succinct way to summarize how the state Democratic Party operates though. It doesn’t matter if you lose the public trust because where else are they gunna go? 

Stands to reason that the contractor here will not face a lick of repercussions, nor will the city for not looking too deeply into the reports they were receiving. I’m not even sure there’s an accountabiliy measure attached to these requirements it’s just sort of an honor system or a guideline. A quick look at the agenda for the City Council meeting on Tuesday will show you that none of the councilors filed anything on the matter. Not that I suspected them to, and if they had their way I’m sure the conversation wouldn’t even come up. 

But in walks Nicole Apostola, one of Worcester’s finest political posters, with a petition that demands much more public accountability from the city as it relates to Polar Park. Here’s the raw text:

Nicole Apostola request City Council request City Manager place easily accessible data on the city's website concerning the funding, use and community benefit agreement for Polar Park that identifies 1) all funding sources for the project; 2) exact project costs, including any/all cost overruns; 3) documentation for gate receipts; 4) how hiring goals are being met; 5) tabulation of the community days and community meetings hosted and scheduled for the current year; 6) tabulation of the revenue-generating events the city is holding during the current year; 7) document usage of the city-designated ballpark suite; and 8) document game tickets given to Worcester Public Schools students.

This is the sort of transparency that might help the city’s case that the ballpark is in fact good, but Worcester is a city that has been historically resistant to transparency. And as we saw with the contractor not only failing but fudging the diversity requirements, there’s good reason to believe that a lot of the community benefits that Nicole outlines here will not be honored. 

The council can do one of two things with this petition. They can either send it off for further review, probably in a subcommittee, or they can ignore it. The safe money is on them ignoring it. Or sending it off to a subcommittee where it will collect dust for a few years and they’ve effectively ignored it. 

And that’s the way that the world goes round. 

~/~

Thanks for reading please consider throwing me a few bucks a month because I couldn’t write this way about Worcester if I had A Real Job :~)

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My copy editor is asleep or mad at me but either way she’s not responding to my texts so this one is coming to you raw take it easy on me please. 

That last line up there is a John Prine song reference that song is really good.

On the music front I am launching a podcast in the near future with a few close friends called Highway 69. It’s about what it’s like to be a touring musician and all the wild stuff that happens on the road. Tours haven’t been a thing for a long time now and I really just miss shows man. It’s nice to reminisce.

Here’s the logo! Worcester tattoo artist Rene Flemming did it and she did an amazing job. She’s very good at tattooing and you can find her work at @renemvrie on Instagram. 

The first episode which is titled “If I fart I will shit” will be out hopefully on Sunday but I’m not too sure because there’s some backend stuff I still don’t understand. I am very stupid as I demonstrate to you every time I post. But I’m excited about this I think it’s funny and interesting and hopefully you will too? We’ll see I suppose.

Ciao!