Sup­port­ers of Paw­tucket ball­park plan turn out at State­house hear­ing


Pawtucket Times - - FRONT PAGE - By JONATHAN BISSONNETTE jbis­son­nette@paw­tuck­et­

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.

Pho­tos by Ernest A. Brown

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....

Photo by Jonathan Bis­son­nette

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...

Photo by Ernest A. Brown

Mayor Don­ald R. Gre­bien speaks to sta­dium sup­port­ers at the State­house.

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