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Senate Panel Conducts PawSox Ballpark Hearing


Pawsox Ballpark at Slater Mill rendering

Rhode Island senate committee held its first hearing on a proposed Pawtucket Red Sox (Class AAA; International League) ballpark on Thursday, marking an early step in the process.

The Rhode Island Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on the plan with local and team officials in attendance, and gave those both for and against the proposal a chance to speak out. The plan for a new ballpark in Pawtucket calls for the facility to be constructed on the site of an Apex Department Store, with legislation enabling the Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency to issue bonds for $71 million. The would team contribute $45 million ($12 million upfront, the rest paybacks on money borrowed by the Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency), Rhode Island would pay $23 million (with Pawtucket committed to paying the money back), and the city would allocate $15 million. The team has also pledged to cover potential construction cost overruns.

In turn, team and local officials are hoping that the plan will lead to development taking place in the area surrounding the ballpark, while Rhode Island Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor revealed at the hearing that officials “have a commitment that at least 50,000 square feet of the ancillary development will be done without state tax incentives.” Additional hearings and discussion are set to take place over the coming weeks, with the financial model being a major point of consideration. More from The Providence Journal:

“We drive a hard bargain in Rhode Island,” Pryor told the committee, saying he and the R.I. Commerce Corporation’s finance team bargained with the PawSox until they got the current proposed deal, which has the team covering 54 percent of ballpark costs. “Not every deal is a good deal for taxpayers, but this one is.”

Yet Sen. Walter S. Felag Jr., who represents Bristol, Tiverton and Warren, keyed in on risk that Pawtucket would carry because the city is relying on development around the ballpark to help raise tax revenue to pay off the principal and interest owed on those bonds. No specifics about such extra development have been announced, although [PawSox Chairman Larry] Lucchino and [Mayor Donald] Grebien each say the team’s real-estate entity is committed to building up around the stadium.

Answering Felag’s questions, Grebien’s spokesman Dylan Zelazo said the senator was correct in recognizing that the revenue expected to come in to pay down the bonds has been calculated with that extra development counted on to produce revenue.

“My job, the city’s job, is to seek private investment,” Zelazo said. “Should we fail in that effort in the short term, we are looking at other ways to skin the cat, if you will. … It would become our job to develop those parcels as quickly as we can.”

Worcester, MA is at least one city that has expressed an interest in landing the PawSox if the team moves on from Pawtucket. The PawSox are currently looking for a new facility to replace McCoy Stadium, where their lease will expire after the 2020 season.

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