The debate over the Pawtucket Red Sox and a public subsidy to help keep the team in Rhode Island began in earnest Wednesday as PawSox ownership unveiled their much-anticipated plan for a $70 million ballpark next to the Providence River. According to the proposal, a 30-year lease/sublease agreement would have a net cost to the state of about $2 million a year.
PawSox ownership said its proposal does not include issuing any bonds or public debt, and that the team will pay for the full cost of the design and construction of its envisioned 10,000 seat ballpark.
PawSox President James Skeffington denied that the team's approach amounts to a threat that the team will leave the state unless the state contributes to the ballpark plan. But he also said state officials have a short window for approving or rejecting the concept.
"It will require legislation and the General Assembly hopefully will consider that legislation," Skeffington told reporters during an afternoon news conference at the Providence Chamber of Commerce. "We’ll have dialogue with them on that. We hope it will get passed this session. In our opinion, it has to be passed this session because we don’t have a lot of time, we have to move forward."
After construction is completed, ownership proposes to lease the new PawSox ballpark to the state for 30 years, at a cost of about $5 million a year, with a sublease by the team from the state for 30 years, at a cost of $1 million per year.
PawSox ownership said one of its consultants, Brailsford & Dunlavey, predicts the state will receive about $2 million in various annual taxes due to the ballpark, and with that, "the net annual cost to the State under the lease/sublease arrangement is estimated to be approximately $2 million." Providence is projected to see an increase of $170,000 in annual incremental tax revenues.
Skeffington, a prominent Providence lawyer, said the team's ownership intends to invest $85 million in the project: $70 million for a ballpark; $5 million to relocate utilities underneath the site; and $10 million for ownership's investment in a 750-car garage that the team will jointly own with the developer of the South Street Landing Project.
“Our proposal represents a good faith effort to propose a way for the State and the City to help support the new owners in their efforts to keep the team in Rhode Island," Skeffington said in a prepared statement released ahead of the Providence Chamber of Commerce news conference. "Hopefully the submission of the lease/sublease proposal will allow us to start a dialogue with the State and City that will lead to the formulation of a joint proposal that will meet with the approval of all three parties – the State, City and the new owners.”
Skeffington said construction could start in December with an anticipated opening of the ballpark in early 2017.
Governor Gina Raimondo and Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor responded to the proposal with a joint statement.
"The PawSox are an important institution in Rhode Island and our goal is to keep them in the state," said Raimondo. "The idea of a stadium in downtown Providence that can be used for multiple purposes is exciting. That said, my top priority is getting Rhode Islanders back to work, and we have very limited resources to invest in economic growth - especially in the face of a large structural deficit. I am committed to working with Mayor Elorza, the Speaker, and the Senate President to evaluate whether this project is in the best interest of Rhode Island, and whether we can afford it."
"We hope and aim to keep this treasured team in Rhode Island," Pryor said. "The project has the potential to enhance the vitality of a key district within our capital city. At the same time, this proposal involves a significant request for public resources. In collaboration with the City of Providence and the General Assembly, we will review this proposal in order to determine whether it makes financial sense and whether it will help catalyze the I-195 corridor."
House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello offered this reaction:
"The House is interested in keeping the PawSox in Rhode Island. We have initial information from the developers that we will consider and analyze. I will consult with my House colleagues, and our Finance Committee will fully review all aspects of the proposal in an open and transparent hearing process before making a determination."
Reaction from Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed:
“The proposal that has been presented by the new owners of the Paw Sox to build a professional ballpark in Providence potentially represents a significant investment in Rhode Island. The proposal will be fully analyzed by the full Senate in a thorough and transparent process.”
State Representative John Carnevale (D-Providence) attended the PawSox' news conference and said afterward he thinks most reps will come around to supporting the concept. But in a sign of at least some opposing views, Rep Doreen Costa (R-North Kingstown) indicated her opposition via Twitter to a public subsidy.
Other states, particularly Massachusetts, would likely jump at the chance to lure the PawSox through some degree of public subsidy.
The PawSox have played at Pawtucket's McCoy Stadium since 1970 and has become known as a destination for family-friendly entertainment. The death of team owner Ben Mondor in 2010 raised uncertainty about what was next, and a new partnership bought the PawSox in February.
While Pawtucket officials are upset about plans to move the team, Skeffington has called a Providence ballpark a way to increase attendance and bring more vitality to Rhode Island's capital city.
Observers also debate whether a ballpark is the best use for part of 20 acres cleared for development by the relocation of Interstate 195, in an area intended as an innovation district.
According to Skeffington, a study done by Brailsford & Dunlavey shows a new ballpark is expected to produced $12.3 million "in [annual] direct spending for the city and the state."
For the project to go forward, ownership said legislative approval is necessary to authorize the state lease of the ballpark.
The ownership also wants the City of Providence to amend the zoning code to allow the ballpark as a permitted use on the intended location, "with home plate placed at the Dyer—Eddy—Ship Street intersection." According to ownership, most Triple A minor league ballparks are exempt from property taxes, and the team is seeking a 30-year city treaty exempting it from such taxes.
Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza and Providence City Council President Luis Aponte outlined a nine-point framework, developed with input from the Raimondo administration, for reviewing the proposed ballpark:
Use of Park Space – Review will ensure that a proposal to repurpose I- 195 land designated for public park space complies with federal requirements for the district.
Infrastructure Requirements – Review will evaluate the proposed project’s impact on both on-site and off-site infrastructure, including utility infrastructure, existing and new public transit requirements and anticipated street closures, taking into account both cost and timeline for implementation.
Environmental Impact – Review will analyze a project’s impact on the I-195 Master Environmental Permit and ensure compliance with storm-water and other environmental requirements of the Narragansett Bay Commission, the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council, and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.
Urban Design and Integration – Review will consider the impact a project will have on surrounding commercial, residential and recreational uses. Sight lines, street-scape, water access, Riverwalk and CityWalk access are factors that will be reviewed to ensure the project makes Providence and Rhode Island better places in which to work, live and do business in the long term. The review will also consider conformance with Providence’s Zoning Ordinance, including building design standards.
Multi-use Feasibility – Careful consideration will be given to the flexibility and alternate usage opportunities of the proposed project. This includes the feasibility of hosting various athletic events, as well as recreational, retail, performance and community uses. The review will also take into consideration the potential impact of competition with existing venues in the City and surrounding area.
Public Impact – Review will weigh a proposal’s commitment to contribute to the community and seek to ensure that the project’s proposed uses will serve the community well. Demonstrated support from local institutions and community partners will be well regarded.
Traffic Impact – Review will analyze a project’s impact on overall and event-driven traffic including motor vehicle, alternative transit and pedestrian flow, as well as analyze increased demand for parking and its impact on existing nighttime parking facilities.
Economic Impact –Review will examine a project’s immediate impact on City and State revenues and expenses, as well as the long- and short-term economic impacts of the project on the I-195 District, the City of Providence and the State of Rhode Island, including direct and indirect job creation.
Cost/Benefit Analysis – Review will consider a project’s capital costs and any request for direct and indirect public investments to ensure a secure and sustainable ratio of public/private investment on capital and operations.
According to the PawSox, the envisioned three-story ballpark structure, "approximately 50 feet high, would open towards the northeast with spectacular left field views of downtown Providence and majestic right field views of the Providence River and the historic East Side/Fox Point neighborhoods. A new pedestrian bridge over the river would bring fans to a new Right Field Plaza."
"The diamond would feature asymmetrical dimensions, an intimate setting, with seats down low and close the field.
"While designed for baseball, the park could also accommodate full NCAA playing fields for football, soccer, and lacrosse. This versatility would allow the venue to draw guest and visitors for sporting and community events year-round.
"Approximately three acres of landscaped public open space, with picnic and play areas, would be available to the public, as would the enhanced network of public pedestrian greenways."
This post has been updated.