Evren Pallares Ó Laoghaire and David A.
After the Pawtucket Red Sox failed to secure a large enough loan from Rhode Island in an attempt to renew its contract with the Pawtucket city council, Worcester and Massachusetts officials rushed to the table with big developers to offer an even bigger handout of $135 million (Worcester Telegram & Gazette). The $240 million plan for the a new sports stadium in the Kelly Square neighborhood has only $35 million of funding coming from the ballpark company with the rest of the money coming from the public: $100 million from Worcester and $35 million from the state of Massachusetts. The $100 million loan will be taken out by the Worcester City Council, not the ballpark company, which raises significant questions about the priorities of our local officials.
The past decade has seen wages stagnate, rents and the cost of basic necessities skyrocket while infrastructure decays. All the while the wage gap between the working poor and the wealthy elite has drastically increased. Our future generations are learning in schools built with toxic substances, in overcrowded classrooms by underpaid educators who often lack the proper supplies. Our homeless population is increasing with no sign of relief, and our public transportation may be up for its third fare increase in two years, making it even more difficult for our workers to get to their jobs, doctors appointments, and grocery markets.
Our houses, buildings and roads are crumbling as big developers swoop in with projects that drive out the poor. The U.S. Census Bureau puts Worcester’s poverty rate at 22%, with $25,000 being the average income. This is a little more than half of the national average, meaning at least 1 in 5 Worcester residents live in poverty while liberal media champions the “Worcester Renaissance” taking place.
There have been multiple attempts by the Worcester working class to organize against the bosses and big developers, make Worcester affordable for all, and end the austerity measures imposed by the Democrats in City Hall and the State House. Educators organized numerous campaigns for proper education funding, a better contract, and healthy learning environments. Carpenters protested wage theft and gentrification at luxury apartment projects. Nurses fought to preserve a much needed community health clinic and campaigned for a state-wide safe patient limits bill. Bus drivers rallied against route cuts and fare increases.
Additionally, Worcester Socialist Alternative (SA) has helped amplify demands to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15/hour, pass rent control, build affordable housing, and declare Worcester a sanctuary city. These and other demands have received significant community support.
Many of these bold and courageous movements have been met with condescending and dismissive attitudes by City Council and the School Committee. These politicians claim that these projects are too expensive, that the money simply “isn’t there” to house our homeless and guarantee our working poor living wages. We are told these reforms are unrealistic to implement.
None of these initiatives come anywhere close to the $135 million of public money being poured into the new stadium, a project that, unlike building affordable housing or fully funding our public schools, has no guarantee of boosting our economy and bringing in more taxes.
Economic Impact of Stadium Construction
According to a lengthy article published in the Telegram & Gazette in August 2018, many sports economists around the country, including some Massachusetts natives, harshly criticize the plan. They point to evidence that sports stadiums do not bring in more wealth or more spending, but just move around pre-existing money spent in other areas of entertainment. From economists Nola Agha from the University of San Francisco, Joel Maxcy from Drexel University in Philadelphia, Robert Baade from Lake Forest College in Illinois and Worcester’s own Victor Matheson from the College of the Holy Cross, there seems to be a general consensus that the project for a ballpark stadium will not pay for itself.
Investing in projects with no guarantee to generate real economic growth beneficial to workers and the community is a mismanagement of our public funds, poor planning by City Council and will most likely plunge the community into debt. With no real money coming in to pay off the loan, the burden would eventually be shifted to the working class to pay by raising our taxes and slashing spending for public services.
Another article published in Forbes by Jeffrey Dorfman, an economics professor from the University of Georgia, said the following about the Super Bowl being played in a publicly funded stadium: “…only a very small fraction of total spending associated with stadium events is left over to help pay back the taxpayers for building a stadium. Businesses near the stadium like restaurants and hotels might win from the extra local spending, but why should taxpayers pay so that a few favored businesses can see greater profits?”
Dorfman brings up a very valid question we should be asking ourselves. Our taxes should not be going to a stadium, they should go to the community, not be given to businesses who don’t deserve it. If the Red Sox couldn’t maintain a stadium in Pawtucket, what makes our city councilors think they will do so well here?
Dorfman concludes the article with the following: “Since most events held at a stadium will rely heavily on the local fan base, they will never generate enough tax revenue to pay back taxpayers for the cost of the stadium. So support your local sports team, enjoy the Super Bowl, but never support public financing of a sports stadium. You as a taxpayer are virtually guaranteed to lose that game.” This statement reflects the fact that dozens of similar sports stadium projects in cities across the country—Atlanta, Oakland, Dallas, Indianapolis, Chicago, Inglewood, and many more—have failed to generate any economic growth or revenue for the city. A wealth of academic studies have consistently found stadiums fail to create economic growth and can even hurt the local economy.
Worcester SA is not against development in our communities. In fact, we welcome new buildings for affordable leisure and entertainment! However, we strongly object to the mismanagement of public resources that turn into direct attacks on our community, especially the working poor. The development we should be seeing is the building of affordable housing, rebuilding our crumbling schools, expanding the Worcester Regional Transit Authority (WRTA), and rehabilitating our roads and homes. These kinds of development would massively benefit the most vulnerable members of our community and the city of Worcester as a whole. As workers who make this city run, we deserve to not only have a say, but make the final decision on projects and legislation.
City Council should answer to us, not the other way around. We put them into power, and we can easily take that power away. We can replace them with members of our community who won’t be captivated by empty promises of big money and big developers. Ordinary people—like Socialist Alternative’s Kshama Sawant in the Seattle City Council—who won’t be co-opted by the Democratic Party which ultimately answers to the wealthy elite and companies instead of the working poor.
Gentrification efforts are well underway in downtown Worcester. Real estate developers and corporations are taking an increased interest in the city as it sees an influx of middle class people priced out of Boston. Developers have already opened some major new apartment buildings and businesses in recent years, including the 145 Front Street Apartments, the Voke Lofts, the Gateway Park complex, and the Crompton Place building.
These developments have been welcomed by Worcester City Council, which is comprised mainly of neoliberal Democrats, and seems desperate to attract capitalist investment into the city. The city government frequently offers tax breaks and other incentives to businesses and developers, and it has demonstrated no concern for how the city’s “revitalization” will affect working class residents. These tax breaks don’t give much in return and are often used to justify cutting funding to public services to cover the cost.
The future relocation of the Pawtucket Red Sox to Worcester is an excellent example of how the City Council has pandered to the interests of capitalists, while completely ignoring the needs of its own constituents. The City Council justifies this massive act of corporate welfare by claiming that the stadium project will pay for itself by generating more than enough tax money to cover the $3 million per year in annual debt payments which the city will make. However, prominent economists like Dorfman (above) disagree.
The City of Worcester shouldn’t be spending a penny on this project. Let the Red Sox franchise use their massive wealth to build it! The Red Sox has more than enough money to pay for the costs of the stadium, why do they need corporate welfare? Instead, we demand our money be used to adequately fund our public schools to give educators and school faculty living wages, reduce class size, rebuild our schools and remove carcinogenic PCBs from buildings like Doherty and Burncoat High. Furthermore we should explore the possibility of bringing the Red Sox franchise into public ownership.
Worcester SA calls for full funding of the WRTA which is the primary transportation method of many Worcester residents. An affordable, high quality public transit system would make the stadium truly accessible to Worcester residents.
To combat gentrification caused by the stadium, we demand immediate rent freeze in the Kelly Square and Canal District neighborhoods in addition to the building of 1,000 units of high-quality, rent-controlled public housing, accessible to our homeless.
Additionally, Worcester SA demands that the stadium be built by union labor and ensure that all new jobs created by the stadium and related projects have union representation, including those working at the concession stands and hotels. We need a guaranteed $15/hour minimum wage for these new jobs! The workers in Pawtucket who are losing their jobs because of the relocation should be fully compensated at current pay levels until they can find other work.
The stadium project is going to be built on brownfields. To make sure our communities are not polluted, the City Council needs to conduct efficient ground testing on the brownfields! New construction, including the stadium and other related projects, should use 100% green energy.
If the stadium is really to benefit the community, it should provide affordable recreation to Worcester residents. Ticket prices should be capped at a rate affordable to the average Worcester worker!
Role of the Community
We as workers and members of this community can make substantial change. When developers and City Council initially revealed stadium construction plans that included the demolition of residential areas, activists, community members and unions expressed outrage on social media. The harsh backlash lasted for roughly three days and forced City Council to backtrack on the proposal and promise not to destroy residential areas after initial threats of protest.
In Philadelphia when a plan by Temple University to build a new football stadium in a residential neighborhood was widely rejected by local communities, it was the collective power and unity Philadelphia Socialist Alternative called for that ultimately defeated the stadium project. Our members in Philly organized in a coalition with students, workers, community members and other political organizations to stand firm against what was a blatant attack on the needs of ordinary people.
The fear of the working class rising up was the deciding factor of whether or not the stadium in Worcester would demolish residential housing and whether the stadium would even be built in Philadelphia.
We should recognize this as a demonstration of our collective power and come together in unity to build upon that momentum to oppose public spending on the stadium. We can divert that money to protect our communities from gentrification and provide immediate relief to our workers and oppressed people. Corporate politicians have given us false hope on many occasions. We should not be tricked into believing City Council has our interests in mind while deciding how this stadium is built.
We must oppose public funding of the stadium and the gentrification it will bring. We must also demand and build for real changes that help Worcester residents. Worcester SA calls on fellow community organizations, unions, and ordinary people from our communities to join us in a coalition opposed to public financing of the stadium and for real funding of our community needs!