Larry Lucchino Still Bullish On Role Ballparks Have On Local Revivals
Sports industry icon Larry Lucchino, who has built and restored several ballparks around the country, took sharp aim at economists who argue new sports facilities are typically a fiscal wash at best for communities. Lucchino, Red Sox President & CEO Emeritus and now Chair of the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox, played a key role in the development of Camden Yards and Petco Park, as well as the restoration of Fenway Park, seeing huge civic transformations in Baltimore, San Diego and Boston as a result. He now is aiming for more of the same with the planned creation of a new ballpark for the minor league team in downtown Worcester, Mass., that is slated to open in ’21. “I look back at the history of the cities I’ve been in and I say Baltimore would not be Baltimore without Camden Yards,” Lucchino said Wednesday at SBJ's Dealmakers In Sports conference. “San Diego [and Petco Park] is probably the greatest example of a win-win proposition. ... It’s worked for us. If you do a generic ballpark in the suburbs, you might not have the same kind of catalytic civic effect. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. But all I know is that I have seen cities transformed before my eyes with considerable economic life and activity that wasn’t present before.”
OWNING THE STAGE: Lucchino, long known around the industry for his gregarious personality and sharp wit, abandoned the traditional, seated Q&A format of his featured interview midway through the session. Almost echoing former TV personality Phil Donahue, Lucchino stood and patrolled the front of the stage and personally took numerous audience questions. He then followed up his responses with a series of Red Sox-themed prize giveaways such as autographed balls and hats. “When I go out to speak, I usually bring a gift bag to help encourage questions from audience,” he said. “So if there are thoughtful, flattering questions…” He then proceeded to field nearly 15 minutes of audience queries covering a variety of mileposts of his long and storied sports career than now covers five World Series champions, a Super Bowl ring, and a Final Four appearance.
* On why Lucchino shifted away from his Red Sox role toward the Triple-A club in ’15. “My partners wanted to be more active. John [Henry] and Tom [Werner] were happy to let me have 15 years running the team, but at some point they wanted to be more active.”
* On the planned move of the minor league club to Massachusetts after failing reach a deal with Rhode Island legislators on a new ballpark. “I couldn’t quite dance the Rhode Island political dance. We tried very hard for two and a half to three years. Rhode Island is a very difficult place, I found, to do business.”
* On the lasting industry impact of Oriole Park at Camden Yards after more than 25 years. “I really had one good original idea in my whole career in sports, and that’s for a traditional, old-fashioned ballpark with modern amenities. ... I didn’t realize it would start a fire in the baseball industry and create progeny all over America.”
* On the role of the late Edward Bennett Williams, the former Orioles owner who was a partner at Williams and Connolly with Lucchino and brought him into the sports industry, ultimately installing Lucchino as Orioles president. “My whole career [in sports] is attributable to him. He opened doors for he. He gave me opportunities. But for having that kind of relationship, I would not be here today. I’d be taking depositions somewhere in Washington, DC.”