One of the big stories in Worcester this summer has been the efforts of local citizens, business leaders, and the City Council to entice the Pawtucket Red Sox, Boston Red Sox’ AAA affiliate, to build a new stadium and move the franchise to the city.
A topic that hasn’t been talked about much recently in this discussion is who would pay the clean-up costs for the Wyman-Gordon property. Wyman-Gordon admits there is environmental contamination at the site, but no one seems to know for sure how bad it is.
In a Worcester Magazine article this summer, Wyman-Gordon property manager Ronnie Brooks is quoted as saying, “I’m not sure it requires lots of cleanup.”
This statement seems odd based on the large amount of Massachusetts EPA documents available online concerning the property. The documents show that Wyman-Gordon is aware of what the contamination is, and there is a Activity & Use Limitation on file for the Madison St. property. An unannounced inspection of that property on January 27th showed that Wyman-Gordon was in compliance with the order.
The costs of environmental clean-up are also hard to determine without significant effort. At the site of the new WRTA Maintenance and Operations Facility on Quinsigamond Ave preliminary estimates put the clean-up costs in the $1-$2M range, but after additional studies the estimates continued to rise until the final estimate of $15M was reached. The actual costs are currently near $20M, with still some funds needed to be appropriated for the project.
If the clean-up costs were to be a small amount wouldn’t it have made business sense for Wyman-Gordon to sell or clean the site up prior to now? It isn’t like environmental clean-up costs would ever go down. Plus with it being such a large parcel of land in a fairly in-demand area of the city it seems strange that Wyman-Gordon has never put the excess property on the market in the decade or so it’s been unused.
There’s been several proposed uses for the property, many of which were discussed in a Sept. 2015 meeting held by the Worcester Redevelopment Authority at the Crompton Collective that was attended by local business leaders, politicians, and residents.
Proposals for the property included a multi-sports facility with an Olympic sized pool for the property, a new school, or townhouses. The site is also frequently mentioned as a possible location for a new police station. To date, no proposal has gotten past the “it looks great on paper” stage.
It’s certainly possible that Wyman-Gordon doesn’t care that much about the property one way or the other and is content with just paying the real estate taxes and letting it sit empty, but that seems a little far-fetched. That property is likely just a drain on Wyman-Gordon’s funds, so it seems like an automatic that they’d move to sell it, especially if it requires very little clean-up.
But there it sits empty.
While there’s no evidence to support any real conclusions one has to wonder if Wyman-Gordon is biding their time waiting for an offer on the land so they can just wash their hands of it and stick the clean-up costs on the buyer. It just doesn’t make any sense that they’ve done nothing to the property over all these years if it would have been easy to clean up and sell.
Another issue any Worcester bid would have to deal with is increased traffic around the proposed stadium location. If you’re from Worcester you know all about Kelley Square and how bad the traffic is in that area on a normal day. Now figure in traffic to and from the ballpark and the word “nightmare” quickly jumps to mind. A look at Google Maps of the area shows that it’s going to be challenging to find a route away from the ballpark that won’t be clogged with traffic.
In the best of times Kelley Square is an issue, and adding 3,000 or more cars going through there in a short span of time is going to cause gridlock in that part of the city. Short of a police detail stopping all other traffic entering Kelley Square and requiring all cars exiting the ballpark up Vernon Street onto I-290, there is no real way it can work with cars heading in either direction.
It is possible the Massachusetts Legislature would approve funds for improvements to the area around the the Wyman-Gordon property that would help alleviate the traffic situation. They did so when Robert Kraft and the Patriots built Gillette Stadium, where state funds were used to improve Route 1 and rail service in Foxborough. There would need to be a plan in place for the legislature to find funding that makes sense for Worcester.
Having the PawSox move to Worcester would be a great feather in the city’s cap, but looking at the obstacles it’s hard to imagine how any bid by the city would be better than the current proposal for Pawtucket that Rhode Island lawmakers will be deciding this fall.
It seems more likely that Worcester is the PawSox ownership group’s public “Plan B” to essentially back the Rhode Island Legislature into a corner to accept the deal and keep the team in Pawtucket.
With all of the strikes against it seems the bad news for Worcester is no matter how many motions the city council passes nor how many postcards are sent out the deck is stacked against the city being able to convince PawSox ownership to move their team here.
The good news? They Wyman-Gordon land really is a nice spot for a new police station.