Supporters of Pawtucket ballpark plan turn out at Statehouse hearing
LATE-SEASON RALLY FOR PAWSOX
PROVIDENCE – Inside of a Senate Finance Committee hearing room that was packed to capacity, with dozens more watching on closedcircuit television just one floor below, supporters of the project that would build a new Pawtucket Red Sox ballpark made their voices loud and clear: that the state could not afford to lose the PawSox and the benefits of a new stadium in downtown Pawtucket are too numerous to count.
As of press time Thursday night, three-quarters of the 70-plus scheduled speakers were in favor of the construction of a new stadium on Apex land across the river from Slater Mill.
Among the speakers who championed the stadium proposal were mayors from Central Falls, Cumberland, Woonsocket, Providence and Johnston; heads of Pawtucket-based businesses and organizations; and members of the AFL-CIO, Building Trades, and Carpenters unions.
Pawtucket Mayor Donald R. Grebien and City Council President David P. Moran shared the table during their testimony at the hearing, with the two elected leaders saying that Pawtucket was home for the PawSox.
“We need to continue to move our state forward and make sure we do not lose them, as it would be another crushing blow,” Grebien said. “Pawtucket’s an important part of Rhode Island’s future.”
Grebien also cited nine key points associated with the stadium project - from the PawSox covering cost overruns to the ballpark creating more jobs in a revitalized downtown - saying the ballpark would be a home run for Rhode Island.
Moran said that the PawSox are a fabric of the community and the ballpark would be a welcome addition downtown alongside Isle Brewers Guild and the commuter rail station.
“As the Pawtucket City Council President, the entire City Council is behind keeping the PawSox in Pawtucket for good,” Moran said.
Seventeen-year-old PawSox fan and McCoy Stadium employee Evan Huddon, who uses a wheelchair, said he’s been going to games as long
as he can remember. One of his best memories, he said, is that he got to play baseball with stars of the game.
“I know if it moves out of Pawtucket, my mom can’t take me to my work because we are so busy. Pawtucket is the perfect place, so please keep the PawSox where they belong: Pawtucket,” Huddon said.
Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt said she understands the need for urban communities to have the opportunity to have construction and buildings that serve their community while providing jobs and tax revenue.
“I think it’s important as a state that we keep the Pawtucket Red Sox right here in Rhode Island,” BaldelliHunt said. “I think we would be doing a disservice to the residents of Rhode Island if we allow the PawSox to leave for another state.”
Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee dismissed any notion that the project was anything like the failed 38 Studios video game endeavor, calling baseball a “national institution” that is “not going anywhere.”
“I’m proud to have been a mayor and see the mayors here tonight ... Strong communities make a strong state of Rhode Island,” McKee said, calling the investment “very manageable” following a major, multi-milliondollar investment by the PawSox.
“This has the potential to create good opportunity for small businesses ... What’s good here for one part of the state is good for the other parts of the state,” he added.
Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor said the new stadium represents a better investment than rehabilitating McCoy Stadium, as it could increase attendance and additionally has the potential for a “catalytic” impact on the area around it.
“Not every stadium deal is a good deal for taxpayers, but this one is,” he said.
Those who voiced their displeasure with the proposal included members of Rhode Island’s Libertarian Party and Progressive Democrats; a former mayoral opponent of Grebien; and residents from communities including Pawtucket, Cumberland, and Providence.
Opponents to the deal suggested that the state cannot afford it, that the financing is questionable, and that McCoy Stadium is a piece of history that shouldn’t be thrown aside.
Providence resident Greg Gerritt said his opposition was based on taxpayer dollars going into the construction of a ballpark.
“How do you spend taxpayers money on baseball with a deficit that threatens people’s health and well being?” he asked.
Opponents distributed a packet that read “Stop the Stadium Deal.” Inside, it called the stadium proposal “severely misguided,” adding that it would be “a shockingly bad deal for Rhode Island and an especially bad deal for Pawtucket.”
Thursday’s hearing was the first of six that will allow the public to vet the proposal and express their opinion on its merits. The Senate Finance Committee’s hearing Thursday focused on outlining the hearing process, receiving an overview of the proposal, and listening to public testimony.
Under the legislation before state lawmakers, the new stadium would be financed in a three-way split by the PawSox, the state, and the city. The ball club proposes contributing $45 million, including a $12 million upfront equity contribution from the owners of the PawSox, plus $33 million in the form of a taxable lease revenue bond issued by the Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency.
The state would also contribute another $22 million, also in the form of bonds issued by the Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency. This series of bonds would be financed through taxes generated by ballpark users, visitors, the PawSox, revenues from private spinoff development as well as a premium ticket surcharge.
The final piece of the financing puzzle would come from the city, which proposes contributing $15 million from the Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency, to be covered by an assortment of traditional revenue sources, including taxes on real estate, tangible property, food and beverage sales, hotel use, and other city revenues including normal state aid but excluding education aid.
The next public hearing will be in Pawtucket on Tuesday, Sept. 26 at the Tolman High School auditorium, 150 Exchange St. at 6 p.m. That hearing will focus on the Senate Finance Committee reviewing potential ancillary development and Pawtucket’s risk, while continuing to take public testimony.
Prior to the start of state Senate hearings on the proposed new Pawtucket Red Sox ballpark, a group of supporters, as well as labor leaders and other political leaders, gathered on the steps of the Statehouse for a ‘Save our PawSox’ Rally Thursday. BELOW: PawSox President Larry Lucchino, right, and longtime executive Mike Tamburro address the rally.
PawSox fan and McCoy Stadium employee Evan Huddon, 17, at far left, joins other supporters of the Pawtucket Red Sox ballpark project in the Senate Finance Committee chambers on Thursday evening. Huddon said: ‘Pawtucket is the perfect place, so please keep the PawSox where they belong.’
Mayor Donald R. Grebien speaks to stadium supporters at the Statehouse.