Following a pattern of substantial upfront investment in the city, Worcester Railers HC owner Cliff Rucker has started a team-based charitable foundation that is planned to help the city’s youth gain more access to hockey.
“I think that when you’re coming into the community, and you’re making significant investments in hockey-related entities — in the event that there is reciprocity in the community, meaning people support the team, people come to the games and it becomes a viable business — there is an obligation to give back to the community,” Rucker said.
Worcester Railers HC Charitable Foundation Inc., was incorporated March 1, according to the Secretary of State website, with an address of 50 Foster St., the DCU Center. Rucker is listed as president, treasurer, clerk and director, according to corporate filings.
Rucker said Mike Myers, Railers vice president of community relations, will run the foundation.
“The vision for this team — and the reason it’s called Railers HC and not just the Worcester Railers — is we’re a club,” said Myers, who worked for the Worcester Sharks for nine years. “And part of being a club is giving back and partnering with organizations in the surrounding communities and giving back.”
Myers and Rucker both told the Sun last week the club has reached out to local nonprofits and youth organizations to initiate relationships, but the foundation is still in planning stages. Rucker would not say how much money he endowed the fund with.
Myers credits Rucker for wanting the team to have a strong community focus.
“What the city has now is a local owner with boots on the ground and able to do projects outside of the team. That’s where I think you will see the difference on the community side [between the Railers and previous sports organizations in the city],” Myers said. “We’re able to form this foundation and give back to the different nonprofits in Central Mass.”
According to the ECHL, teams donated more than $5.6 million last season to charitable organizations. Over the past 10 years, the total contribution is more than $37 million.
Rucker, who seeded the foundation with his own contribution, said the foundation will eventually do hockey-related events to raise money.
The North Shore businessman has not said how much he has or will invest in the city, but it began with a $750,000 expansion fee before the governing board of the ECHL, a minor hockey league, approved Rucker and Worcester for a team in February.
He has since committed to purchasing a Commercial Street bar, partnered with developers of a Canal District rink complex reportedly planned to cost $12 million to $15 million, is on the lookout for a place of his own in the city and has said he has plans of buying a downtown property to house Railers players.
The Sun was first to report, Rucker’s plans to purchase the former Bar FX at 90 Commercial St., behind the DCU Center.
Rucker said he envisions a hockey-centric sports club, restaurant and bar to serve as a gathering spot for Railers fans before and after home games, and as a central place to catch away games on TV.
Also first in the Sun was news that Rucker is now 50 percent owner of a planned multipurpose ice rink facility at the former PresMet Corp. site at Winter and Harding streets.
Plans for the long-dormant parcel include at least two ice skating rinks, 40,000 square feet of retail space, a training center, pro shop and restaurant.
The land is owned by New Garden Park Inc., a subsidiary of the Worcester Business Development Corp., and will be leased to Marathon Sports Group partner Scott Rouisse and Rucker, who are the managing partners of Worcester Sports Center LLC with headquarters at 112 Harding St.
“With the restaurant and the rinks, it’s part of our vision of access, community and a Worcester-centric hockey club,” Rucker said late last week. “It all fits together.”
“All of these things are directed on the business end and will help to give back right away. To also have a foundation for the nonprofits in the area sort of rounds out the package that Railers HC represents,” Myers said.
Rucker is also searching for a building near either the DCU Center or the new rinks to house the Railers HC players.
“It needs to be in walking distance of downtown or the Canal District because guys want to go out, grab dinner and have fun,” Rucker said.
The players will live in the space rent-free, because ECHL rules mandate teams provide players housing for no charge, according to Rucker.
Rucker said he could let the players find apartments on their own and be responsible for their rent, but he sees the housing requirement as an opportunity to purchase a building and continue to invest in Worcester.
“We come in and make these investments. If it’s an abject failure, it’s going to be difficult to give back to the community. It becomes a financial drain,” Rucker said. “Conversely, if it becomes a viable sustainable business because the community supports the business, then we in turn have an obligation to then put back into the community. That’s the basis of the foundation. We’re planning for success.
“The foundation will give us a vehicle to project that success back into the community. That’s the vision.”