Supporters of a proposed $83 million ballpark for the Pawtucket Red Sox offered four hours of endorsements Thursday night before opponents got a chance to weigh in.
The backers of the plan, which calls for a brand new stadium near Pawtucket's historic Slater Mill, offered two messages to the Senate Finance Committee: that it's time for the state to move past the shadow of 38 Studios and that the new stadium is about more than just minor league baseball.
"It involves development, ancillary development around the ballpark, more downtown development," said PawSox Chairman Larry Lucchino. "We share with the mayor some faith in the future of Pawtucket and northern Rhode Island. And as a baseball team we want to be part of an effort to help revitalize that city."
A series of mayors -- including Jorge Elorza of Providence, Joseph Polisena of Johnston, James Diossa of Central Falls, William Murray of Cumberland, and Don Grebien of Pawtucket -- took turns extolling the proposal. So did the state Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor, who negotiated the terms of the proposal with the PawSox.
Earlier, hundreds of union members rallied outside and inside the Statehouse to try to build support for the stadium plan. So many people turned out for the hearing that an overflow room was also utilized.
Critics have objected to the inclusion of $38 million of public borrowing as part of the stadium proposal. They also question why taxpayers should subsidize a sports team whose ownership includes a number of wealthy individuals.
Seventy people signed up to speak as part of the hearing, but the formal witness list didn't come into play until about 10 pm -- four hours after the meeting started.
RI Senate spokesman Greg Pare said opponents did not get an opportunity to speak earlier since the City of Pawtucket was given a chance to outline its case.
Those waiting to testify earlier in the evening included Cranston Republican Steven Frias, who almost unseated House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello from his state rep seat last year. In a lengthy written commentary, Frias makes the case that public subsidies for sports stadiums are unwise and that some of the research being used by the state is unreliable.
But a few state senators raised concerns ahead of opponents.
State Senator Frank Ciccone (D-Providence) said lawmakers have gotten email from people who wonder if there’s enough money to go around.
“They’re concerned about the fact that the state is looking at a large deficit, they’re telling us that Pawtucket is looking at a large deficit," Ciccone said. "And we’re trying to bind different taxpayers into a 30-year deal.”
Supporters responded by saying the PawSox stadium will pay for itself over time, and that Rhode Island would lose $2 million a year in tax revenue if the team moves out of state.
The next Senate Finance Committee hearing is September 26 at Tolman High School in Pawtucket. More details on the hearings on the proposal and the hearings can be found on a site created by the Senate.