PawSox Stadium Proposal Faces Uncertainty In RI House

May 17, 2017

Speaker Mattiello (right) and Governor Raimondo (left) during a 2016 news conference.
Credit Ian Donnis / RIPR

The $73 million proposal for a new PawSox stadium in Pawtucket faces an uncertain path in the Rhode Island House of Representatives.

Asked Wednesday for his reaction to the proposal unveiled a day earlier, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello pointed to how the plan has not been introduced as legislation. "There's nothing before me," he said. "That was a press conference. I have nothing."

Supporters of the PawSox proposal tout it as way to revitalize part of Pawtucket, and they praise the team's ownership for being willing to pay $45 million, more than half, toward the $73 million cost of a new stadium.

Opponents, however, object to a request for a combined $38 million in funds from the state and the City of Pawtucket. Lawmakers, meanwhile, appear mindful of the stigma of 38 Studios, which was lured to Rhode Island with a $75 million state loan guarantee in 2010 before going bankrupt in 2012.

In an interview with RIPR ahead of Wednesday's House session, Mattiello said, "I am concentrating on the state budget and a lot of big issues that are important to a lot of my colleagues and the citizens of the state. I will look at this [PawSox] issue when I get a proposal. There's nothing before me, and it's May 17, so those facts speak for themselves at this point."

With lawmakers expected to end their session in mid-June, Mattiello was asked whether there's adequate time to vet the PawSox' stadium plan.

"Minor things, easy things, we can do at this time of the year," he said. "I don't know what the proposal is. I don't know what is requested. There's no legislation before us. If and when there is, we'll attempt to take a look at it."

Earlier, during an interview with reporters after an unrelated news conference, Governor Gina Raimondo said she would encourage various public officials to support the PawSox proposal, including Speaker Mattiello. 

She said it's not realistic for the PawSox ownership, which includes wealthy businessmen, to entirely pay for the cost of a new stadium.

"No, not particularly," Raimondo said. "One of the reasons that this proposal is so much better than the prior proposal [in 2015] is that they are in fact putting up the majority of the money. And in addition to the millions of dollars that they are putting up for the stadium, they're also committing millions of dollars more to economic development in Pawtucket, for restaurants and retail space and corporate space."

"So they're putting up the majority of the money," the governor continued, "and they're making a real commitment to Pawtucket, and they're agreeing that they're not going to take profits for the first handful of years. And if they do, they'll contribute that to the Pawtucket Foundation or the Rhode Island Foundation. My job is to look out for the taxpayers, and in this instance, you have what I believe is a self-supporting ballpark. They are coming up millions of dollars, and I think it's good for Pawtucket."

Raimondo said the PawSox and Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien are working on legislative proposal, with the assistance of the Commerce Corporation.

"It does need to be fully vetted, and I'll leave that bit of it to the legislature to figure out how they want to do their hearings, when they want to do their hearings."

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, a supporter of building projects and construction jobs, is considered likely to support the PawSox proposal.

"The new proposal from the PawSox is a vast improvement over their proposal two years ago," Ruggerio said in a statement Wednesday. "Risk to taxpayers is minimal, and the investment from the state, even in a worst-case scenario, would be less than making needed repairs at state-owned McCoy Stadium. The initial analysis from the team suggests the project pays for itself and will likely generate revenue for the state."

"A new stadium would make an impressive gateway as motorists come into the state from the north. It also has the potential to be a catalyst for the economic rebirth of downtown Pawtucket, similar to the way moving rivers sparked the Providence Renaissance. It will put Rhode Islanders to work, and keep an affordable, family entertainment option and longtime Rhode Island tradition in Pawtucket.

"I am grateful that the PawSox management listened to the concerns expressed by the public regarding their previous proposal, and emerged with this much improved plan.

"While I await the legislation so it can be reviewed, I believe this proposal has the potential to be mutually beneficial to the team, city and state. It will be thoroughly analyzed and reviewed, and the public will have the opportunity to testify as part of the legislative hearing process in the Senate in the upcoming weeks."