Revised PawSox Bill Steers More Revenue To Pawtucket; Outlook In RI House Uncertain

Dec 7, 2017

The Senate Finance Committee, during a PawSox hearing in September.
Credit Ian Donnis / RIPR

A revised bill unveiled Thursday for funding a new PawSox stadium makes a series of changes, including the steering of more stadium revenue to the City of Pawtucket, although the outlook for the proposal remains uncertain in the General Assembly.

A 74-page report produced for the Senate Finance Committee, by the Senate Fiscal Office, spells out 11 specific changes to legislation for an envisioned $83 million stadium near Slater Mill.

One change would direct 50 percent of naming rights from a stadium, estimated to be $250,000 a year, to the City of Pawtucket. Surcharges on premium tickets would go to Pawtucket instead of the state. The legislation requires the team to develop a minimum of 50,000 square feet at the same time that a stadium gets built, with a $275-a-day penalty for not completing that in time for the ballpark's opening.

"I think you can see from the changes that we made that a major goal was to provide greater financial security to the city of Pawtucket, as well as meet some of the other major concerns," Senate Finance Chairman William Conley (D-East Providence) told RIPR in an interview.

The revised bill also addresses a concern that the previous version would expand the state's rights on eminent domain.

Instead, according to the report prepared for Senate Finance, "Based on the concerns expressed during public testimony and a subsequent determination that the need for this expansion was overstated, S-0990 is amended to eliminate the expansion of eminent domain powers under the Redevelopment Act and to restore the definition of 'Blighted and substandard' throughout the bill."

Conley said he's asking the Senate Finance Committee to hold the bill, "so that we can allow the power of transparency to complete its jobs here. With these kinds of significant changes, we want to make sure that there's additional time for our colleagues in the Senate and the stakeholders, the most important of whom are the people of the state of Rhode Island, to give us that additional response and feedback on the changes before we act on it."

Yet in a statement earlier Thursday, state Republican Chairman Brandon Bell said the process for considering a new PawSox stadium suffers from a lack of transparency.

Republican Chairman Brandon Bell said the PawSox process requires more transparency.
Credit Ian Donnis/File Photo / RIPR

"The PawSox ownership won’t publicly disclose their profit and loss statements and have been hiding their financial involvement in a lobbying effort to get Rhode Island taxpayers to bail them out," Bell said. "Rhode Island taxpayers deserve to know all the facts about the PawSox’s financial condition and the extent to which the PawSox ownership has attempted to influence legislators."

"Until the PawSox’s profit and loss statements are made public and until a thorough investigation of the lobbying efforts by the PawSox and their allies is completed, the General Assembly should not even consider voting on any legislation for the PawSox. Secret finances and hidden lobbying efforts remind me of 38 Studios,” Bell continued.

The PawSox are seeking a new home based on the age and condition of McCoy Stadium. The team soured many Rhode Islanders with an ill-fated attempt to move to Providence in 2015, and the shadow of 38 Studios has also overshadowed discussion of a new home for the team.

The PawSox unveiled a new stadium proposal last summer, although it met with a mixed reception and has languished without a vote in the legislature. Opponents object to the use of tens of millions of dollars in public borrowing, while supporters contend the stadium would spark economic development in Pawtucket.

Although directing more revenue to Pawtucket was a concern raised by House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, Mattiello had not been briefed on the revised legislation as of mid-afternoon Thursday, Conley said.

Among other changes to the legislation:

-- The PawSox would be responsible for daily, operational maintenance of the stadium and its costs: "The lease shall require that the Team be responsible for a minimum 50.0 percent of annual capital expenditures and that the City, State, and Team must contribute a minimum of $150,000 in total per year into a capital expenditure fund to finance capital expenditures. The parties will be required to development a multi-year capital improvement plan detailing expected, future capital projects and outlays. No capital expenditure funds shall be used for operational maintenance."

-- "The bill memorializes the commitment by the parties of making the new ballpark available as a public park facility."

-- "The lease is required to be for 30 years and must be reviewed and approved by the State Properties Commission prior to the issuance of bonds."

Conley said he hopes the Senate will move the revised bill to the floor of that chamber "as soon as our schedule allows" after the legislative session starts in January. The House is considered the biggest question on the fate of the proposal, a situation influenced by how stadium opponents have heightened the PawSox issue in Mattiello's district in Cranston.

In Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker last week expressed support for Worcester's attempt to attract the PawSox and said the state might help with infrastructure improvements.

Asked about the outlook in the Rhode Island House, Conley said he tried to listen carefully to Mattiello's concerns. "I'm hopeful that the amendments that we've made to the legislation will also address what the speaker has said his concerns. So I'm hoping it's viewed favorably by the speaker and the House."