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RI brings in Zimbalist to consult on ballpark funding

New Providence ballpark

Well, this is about to get very interesting: the Rhode Island House of Representatives has hired sports economist Andrew Zimbalist to consult on potential public funding of a new Providence ballpark for the Pawtucket Red Sox (Class AAA; International League).

The PawSox owners are asking for $5 million in annual funding for a new $85-million downtown waterfront ballpark, offset somewhat by $1 million in annual rent. Increased economic activity generated by the ballpark and surrounding development would defray $2.4 million of that cost to the state, say the team owners. The PawSox would also handle acquisition of the land from a state commission, either with a lease or outright purchase.

Zimbalist, a sports economist who holds a doctorate in economics from Harvard University, is currently a professor of economics at Smith College in Northampton, Mass. He’s made his mark as a critic of civic spending on sports facilities, writing several books and articles on the matter, including May the Best Team Win: Baseball Economics and Public Policy.

Early response to the PawSox ballpark proposal has been negative: Governor Gina Raimondo has already spoken out against it, as have many other state legislators and local officials. So there’s clearly the need to negotiate, with the original proposal basically dead on arrival. The PawSox owners have already shifted from their original plan and expressed an interest in buying the ballpark land, and a meeting last week between them and Raimondo seems to have defused the situation. And we’re at the stage where all sides seem willing to discuss the terms of a deal, not whether a deal should be made at all. From the Providence Journal:

In response to Journal inquiries, [House Speaker Nicholas] Mattiello said: “I have hired Professor Zimbalist to provide the House with advice and analysis as negotiations proceed on the stadium.

“As I meet with the PawSox’ owners, I need an informed perspective about deals that baseball teams have struck with other states and communities in the past 10 years. I want to know if the deal the PawSox’ owners are discussing is competitive and consistent with other states.”…

“What I think about the deal fundamentally is that it has interesting potential for Providence, but that the numbers have to be right to make it work financially and fiscally for the state,” Zimbalist said Monday. “A commodity, a good, a service can look attractive, but like everything else in our society, it’s got to have the right price. That’s what I’m going to try to figure out: What does the deal actually mean?”

RELATED STORIES: Early reaction to Providence ballpark plan: negative; PawSox present alternative financial deal for new Providence ballpark; New Providence ballpark renderings unveiled; The final days of McCoy Stadium?; PawSox sale closed; move to Providence next; Pawtucket: We want to keep PawSox; Pawtucket Red Sox sold: Reports

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