RI State Treasurer backs ballpark project
Treasurer Seth Magaziner latest Rhode Island official to weigh in positively on PawSox stadium
EAST GREENWICH – After careful study and research, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner told the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday night that he supports the proposed Pawtucket Red Sox ballpark.
“I will admit, I initially had some skepticism. But after several weeks of reviewing the plan and meeting with city and team officials and commerce department officials, I believe a ballpark at Slater Mill would be a winwin for our state,” Magaziner told the committee, which staged the fourth in a series of hearings on the New England Institute of Technology campus. “I believe the plan is both affordable for the state and the city. We should also be excited about the prospect of redeveloping downtown Pawtucket.”
The analysis done by Magaziner’s office found that the state has the capacity to issue roughly $1.2 billion of new bonds over the next 10 years while remaining within acceptable borrowing limits. As part of the same study, Pawtucket’s level of indebtedness is below the recommended limits based on criteria such as direct debt relative to property level, total debt relative to property level, total debt & pension liability to property level, and total and pension liability relative to personal income.
“The real financial challenge for Pawtucket is not that the city has too much traditional bonded debt, but like many cities, Pawtucket has to bring its pension liability under control,” said Magaziner. “The answer to a struggling pension plan should be to fix it, not to freeze all other investments and activities.”
While Magaziner supports the $83-million PawSox ballpark plan as it’s been explained to date, he feels the legislation as currently written needs some tweaks. He said the bill is vague as to whether the state would guarantee the Series A and Series C bonds if the team or city were unable to meet those financial obligations.
“If there were not a state guarantee on these bonds, the interest rates on them would be slightly higher,” said Magaziner. “If there were to be a state guarantee, the interest cost to the city would be lower, but the state would be responsible for fulfilling the obligation if the city was unable to.”
The general treasurer’s office estimated that the cost of interest to Pawtucket for the Series C bonds, in the absence of a state guarantee, would run between $50,000 and $200,000 higher per year. Magaziner also questioned whether the Pawtucket Redevelopment Authority is the best agency to issue all three series of bonds.
“The execution and pric- ing of the deal might be more favorable if the bonds were issued through a more established agency,” said Magaziner.
Should the PawSox ballpark legislation get passed, Magaziner says it’s imperative that the lease agreement between the city, the state, and the team “contain adequate taxpayer protections and that the state be able to walk away if those protections are clearly not laid out.” The lease agreement also needs to be clear about who is responsible for the cost of ongoing maintenance and repairs over the 30-year life of the team’s agreement.
“If these conditions are met, I believe this plan will be a positive for our economy and our quality of life,” said Magaziner. “The PawSox are a valuable Rhode Island institution and we owe it to working families to support family friendly recreation that’s affordable.”
Stefan Pryor, the state’s commerce secretary, outlined six guiding principles during his presentation to the committee. Of note, the PawSox owners with Rhode Island ties would pledge to donate their ballclub profits to charity for the first five years of the new ballpark.
“We believe this is fair deal for taxpayers and this framework is very sound and merits strong consideration for advancement,” said Pryor.
Responding to a question from Sen. Louis DiPalma about the PawSox competing against, for example, the R.I. Convention Center to host a non-baseball event, Pryor said the intention is not to play two sides against the middle with one side offering a reduced rate. Having a quasi-state entity like the Convention Center Authority “is a worthwhile subject for discussion,” said Pryor.
Pryor told the committee that it would annually cost $150,000 to maintain the new PawSox ballpark. The team is seeking to share the cost with the state, but Rhode Island hasn’t agreed to that. The committee said that future hearings must address that.
Michael Donegan, an environmental lawyer with Providence-based Orson & Brusini, was engaged by the city of Pawtucket in relation to environmental conditions about the Apex site. Donegan referenced the Sage environmental report that’s available on pawsoxhearings.com when asked by Sen. Walter Felag if it’s safe to dig on the property.
Public testimony was scheduled to start at 8 o’clock but didn’t commence until 8:45 due to several of the speakers running long. Atotal of 25 speakers signed up but 19 ended up testifying.
The next Senate Finance Committee hearing is scheduled for Thursday night at 6 o’clock at Roger Williams.