The New Balance Athletic Shoe Co.'s charitable foundation Friday issued a binding pledge of $500,000 to support the modernization and reconstruction of Newell Stadium.
The pledge was in a response to a request for proposals from the city for naming rights to the field, and the bid was opened at City Hall at 11 a.m. to cheers by the Gloucester Fishermen Athletic Association, which is spearheading the $3.5 million project.
GFAA President Jonathan Pope said the bid, to be paid in 10 annual $50,000 increments, effectively assures that the project would succeed. Groundbreaking is set for next spring.
"Now, we're on the other side of the hill," said Dick Wilson, the visionary of the project and its chief fund-raiser. "This is no longer a 'might happen,' this will happen."
The city has committed $1.5 million in a bond, proposed by Mayor Carolyn Kirk and approved by the City Council.
The mayor said the New Balance Foundation grant would be used as collateral to create gap financing for the work.
The naming rights are expected to lead to a rechristening of the facility as New Balance Field at Newell Stadium, officials have said, though the deal is for a "title sponsorship," with the naming terms to be negotiated and agreed upon by both New Balance and the city.
Wilson said the plan is to begin borings on the site either before or after Thanksgiving so that construction could be on track for the spring.
"There's an outside chance," said Wilson, "that we might be ready to go by the start of the 2012 football season," but more likely the first season in the new Newell will be in the fall of 2013, he added.
Wilson said the New Balance Foundation's priority "has been fighting childhood obesity, and we appealed to them on that basis, for the health of the kids in the community."
"This is a great day for Gloucester; this approach can be a model for other communities," Pope said.
"It's a win, win, win, win," Kirk said. "We're so happy to have New Balance involved."
New Balance Shoe Co. is owned by Jim Davis, who has a summer home in Gloucester.
A limited liability corporation headed by Davis also acquired the Birdseye property on Commercial Street over the summer, in anticipation of seeking to redevelop the largely unused space behind Pavilion Beach into a hotel complex
Wilson said architects and engineers have indicated the $3.5 million estimate for the new stadium and field, to be artificial turf, was conservative due to the sluggish economy and drop-off in construction projects.
The new Newell will also have a new track, new stands and a press box. In addition to serving as home to Gloucester High School's football Fishermen and many of the school's other outdoor athletic teams, it also plays host to the school's graduation each spring, and is expected to be used for a number of other community events.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3464, or firstname.lastname@example.org.