Worcester Railers HC searched high and low, east and west, and all across the city to find a home for its incoming crop of mostly young up-and-coming hockey players.
Conveniently enough, what team officials were looking for was right around the corner the whole time.
The Railers have agreed to lease five four-bedroom apartments at Edge at Union Station, according to team and property officials, to accommodate 20 players in anticipation of the start of the club’s inaugural minor league hockey season in October.
“We’re looking forward to it,” said Michael Myers, Railers president. “It’s a perfect setup for us since they’re right there next to the [Worcester Ice Center].”
The Worcester Ice Center, which broke ground this past October, is a 100,000 square-foot facility — anchored by two full-size ice rinks and a full-service restaurant to be run by Niche Hospitality — and has been slated to open in August 2017. At the corner of Winter and Harding streets, it’s a short walk from the Edge.
The team, Myers told the Sun, leased the apartments at the Edge for one year to “test the waters and see how it is for [the Railers players].”
More Railers coverage in the Sun:
- First in the Sun: Rink adds long-term tenant
- Canal District power play: Rucker in on rink deal
- Rucker buys in with Commercial Street bar purchase
- Worcester investment continues with charity fund
Per ECHL [formerly East Coast Hockey League] rules, the first day the Railers will be able to sign any players is June 16. However, the club has put an emphasis on showing prospects downtown and the Canal District in the hope of enticing them to sign with the team.
“We have players in to tour our facilities pretty much every weekend,” Myers said.
“[General manager and head coach Jamie Russell] has had guys in to see the apartments at the Edge, to see the rinks and the locker rooms [at the DCU Center].”
ECHL is minor league hockey akin to Double-A baseball, generally two steps from the NHL, with the American Hockey League [in which the Sharks and IceCats played] in between. ECHL teams must recruit and sign at least most of their own players.
Often NHL and AHL teams will loan or assign players to ECHL affiliates. The Railers have not yet found an affiliation. Three NHL teams are not connected with an ECHL franchise: New Jersey, Columbus and Florida. Some other affiliations will cease at the end of the 2016-17 season.
Myers said the club prioritized amenities that might attract younger players, like the commuter rail at Union Station and being within walking distance to dining establishments and nightlife on Shrewsbury Street and in the Canal District.
“Last Saturday night, I was doing a check on the rink and I rolled down Water Street. It was awesome. It was lively and bustling. It didn’t seem dangerous or sketchy at all. I was pretty psyched,” said Myers of the area known as much for a rowdy bar scene as it is for its reinvigorated business footprint.
In a previous interview with the Sun, Railers HC owner Cliff Rucker, also an owner of the rink, identified the club’s need for housing near either the DCU Center or the practice facility.
“It needs to be in walking distance of downtown or the Canal District because guys want to go out, grab dinner and have fun,” he said.
Rucker said on the phone Tuesday that the team chose the Edge after attempts to buy and renovate a building fell through.
“My goal was to create and own player housing and take an abandoned building and renovate it,” he said. “Everything I’m trying to do in this city is about creating value. Not buying a piece of property, sitting on it, and waiting for the market to go up and cash out. That’s not my M.O.
“I worked hard to try to find a building to renovate in Worcester for player housing. I had three or four deals that fell apart for various reasons.”
ECHL rules mandate teams provide players housing at no charge. Rookie players make a minimum of $445, returning players $500, per week, according to the league. The Sin Bin, a minor league hockey website, said the average ECHL player made about $600 weekly last season, with a few of the league’s elite prospects or veterans making $1,000 per week.
Mary Shaffer, managing director of Vision Properties, the property management firm that runs the Edge, said that as of Feb. 11 the eight-story apartment complex that opened last June 1 in the Osgood-Bradley building is about 80 percent occupied and could reach 100 percent by the time the Railers move in.
“We’re geared towards millennials, young professionals and students. Having athletes here certainly is an appeal,” said Amanda Pluta, Edge property manager.
Michael Waller, a Worcester resident and city firefighter, has been living at the Edge for the past five months. “The cost, the location and what they have to offer, [players] won’t have much at all to complain about. Being so close to Shrewsbury Street has its benefits.
“There’s a lot of younger people living there and it’s a wide variety of people,” he said. “They will fit right in no problem at all.”
Pluta said she hopes that people who visit the Worcester Ice Center or go to Railers games see what the city has to offer and consider moving here.
“Bringing in the rink, and having the Railers move in here, will not only bring more people into Worcester in general, but will certainly help with promoting both [the Edge] and the Railers,” Pluta said.
Myers said an official announcement on the lease will come later this year. The club continues to search for a separate living situation for veteran players with families.
“We’ve been looking at three-deckers and other alternate ways to house them. Most of the vets, if they’re there and they’re single, they will be fine with [living at the Edge]. But for those guys with families, we want to give them the option,” Myers said.