PawSox officials unveiled a vision for a downtown Pawtucket ballpark on Friday, created by Yale architecture students, who spent part of a semester working on the project.
Their proposal, for the site of the Apex Department Store, would place third baseline roughly parallel to the Blackstone River, affording views of both the river and downtown Pawtucket.
The students also envisioned a pedestrian bridge connecting the stadium to the rest of downtown, along with a walkable corridor of retail and residential development between the stadium and the site of a proposed train station.
Although the design does not create a ballpark with much similarity to Fenway Park, the Red Sox major league stadium -- there's no Green Monster, for example -- the students said they wanted to respond to the particularities of the Pawtucket site. They focused on opening the stadium up to the riverfront to leverage the natural beauty and recreational opportunities of a riverfront park, and pay homage to the city's industrial history, such as the nearby Slater Mill Historic Site.
"In that way it is similar to Fenway," said Janet Marie Smith, an advisor to the PawSox who worked with the Yale students.
Smith, who is known for her work on stadium projects such as Boston's Fenway Park renovation and Camden Yards in Baltimore, noted that the Green Monster was created because Fenway's designers were responding to the particularities of that site, notably the limitation created by Lansdowne Street.
The proposed site for the stadium, nestled between the river and Interstate-95 presented certain challenges, the students and PawSox officials said. Long ago the highway cut the parcel off from its neighborhood, and it is geographically bound by I-95 and the river.
But the location also provides an opportunity for signage easily visible to passing cars. And noise from the highway and the urban setting make noise on game nights less of a concern, the students said.
Their design would retain the rounded, vintage lights of the Apex store's parking lot but not its recognizable pyramid shape.
The unveiling of the students' design came as PawSox team owners seek approval for public subsidies to help build the park. The team and the state have said the project will pay for itself over time, but critics have questioned the use of taxpayer money for a privately-owned sports team.
Property owners and developers who came to hear the students' presentation expressed some concerns about noise and traffic, but overall the response to the design was positive. One looming question was whether the vibrant, urban corridor imagined by the students would really be possible, given the large number of empty storefronts in Pawtucket's historic downtown.
"We've got to do something to address downtown," said property owner Morris Nathanson, who is widely credited with helping to spark the redevelopment of Pawtucket's mills into artist live-work spaces.
Asked whether Pawtucket can realistically be compared to other cities where minor league ballparks have had a positive impact, such as Nashville, PawSox stadium advisor Janet Marie Smith said, "Absolutely."
"Because every city is trying to reinvent itself."