We end 2017 with a countdown of the 10 biggest stories of the year on Ballpark Digest, as chosen by editors and partially based on page views. Today, #10: The Pawtucket Red Sox’s ongoing search for a new ballpark.
The year began with the Pawtucket Red Sox (Class AAA; International League) considering their options in Pawtucket, and eventually saw them focus on a downtown Apex department store as a potential site for a new ballpark to replace McCoy Stadium. This search gained new urgency with the report that McCoy Stadium could not be renovated to bring it up to Triple-A standard due to its site limitations, according to a feasibility study by Pendulum, commissioned by the PawSox, Pawtucket, and Rhode Island. Even with a $68 million full renovation, a $35.6 million partial renovation, or a $78 million new ballpark built on the same site, said the study, the location would “in all likelihood not provide an opportunity to attract private investment and development.”
In May, the Apex site received excellent news: a Brailsford & Dunlavey report concluded that it was the better option than the competing Tidewater site, providing “the ability to accommodate $110.3 million in additional development, including a 125,000-square-foot hotel, 200 apartments, and 50,000 square feet of retail space.” Over a 30-year period, Apex’s production of $129.8 million in revenue for the city and state compared favorably to Tidewater’s $95.8 million.
Also in May, governor Gina Raimondo announced that Rhode Island could offer a maximum of $35 million in state for a new PawSox stadium, supplying the potential baseline for the future park. Three days later, the PawSox released a preliminary funding plan: $45 million from the team, $23 million from the state, and $15 million from the city. The Providence Journal observed, “Much of the financing is contingent upon the Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency issuing two or three bonds that would provide cash up front to cover stadium construction costs.”
These preliminary costs did not account for the principal and interest costs of those 30-year bonds. What started as a perceived $75 million cost, rising to $83 million when accounting for the acquisition of the Apex property, skyrocketed to a potential $158 million. In the new calculations, taking both principal and interest into account, the PawSox would owe $86 million, Rhode Island $43 million, and the City of Pawtucket $29 million.
Politics ramped up, and eventually the Rhode Island General Assembly declined to consider the proposed $23 million of state funding for a new PawSox ballpark. A July 1 deadline, ending the PawSox’s exclusive relationship with Pawtucket, loomed. A new ballpark bill was introduced in the General Assembly at the end of June, but July 1 came and went. The PawSox ownership began looking outside Rhode Island, casting an eye toward Worcester, officially opening the door to moving outside of Pawtucket.
At the end of July, Larry Lucchino led a group of PawSox front-office brass to meet with the City of Worcester, aided by baseball planning and development executive Janet Marie Smith. Worcester mayor Joseph Petty addressed the issue with a resolution: “The City Council does hereby support in principle the relocation of the Red Sox Triple A baseball team to Worcester including building a stadium to accommodate this team and further, request the City Manager do all that is reasonably in his power to facilitate this move.” The resolution was passed by the City Council in an 8-1 vote.
Back in Pawtucket, the Rhode Island Senate Finance Committee agreed to hold hearings on the revised financial plan come September. Several hearings were conducted over the ensuing months, starting with the first on September 14.
Pawtucket city officials proposed a solution to the funding difficulties: a special taxing district surrounding the Apex site, thus raising the money to pay off the 30-year bonds. A Pawtucket city resolution was called for. The topic: Should the General Assembly authorize $15 million worth of bonds, signifying the city’s contribution for the ballpark’s costs. The resolution passed, 6-2, moving the plan forward, into the state’s hands.
A portion of the PawSox’s financial details emerged, leading into the final state senate committee hearing scheduled. But team officials were initally reticent to fully open the team’s books, though they were eventuall the finance committee’s vote.
In November, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello informed the PawSox that he would not call for a vote on the ballpark proposal for the remainder of the year.
While Rhode Island’s politicians publicly debated, the PawSox continue to consider Worcester, looking over a site between Madison and Green Streets. The city did its part as well, bringing in economist Andrew Zimbalist and former Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Jeffrey Mullan as consultants.
Another possible candidate for relocation was confirmed by PawSox chairman Larry Lucchino: Attleboro, Massachusetts, which borders Rhode Island.
In Pawtucket, Churchill & Banks submitted a letter of interest to develop near Tidewater, the Apex site’s local competition. The letter of interest was marked with great interest by mayor Grebien, who saw it as a way to prove to the state government that Pawtucket was drawing commercial interest. Still, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio announced that there would not be a vote on the stadium plan within the year 2017.
Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker leaped into the fray in December. “Our message to Worcester and to the PawSox,” said Baker in a Providence Journal story, “is that as they develop that proposal, we’re interested in participating.” Pawtucket mayor Grebien, frustrated by the state senate’s lack of urgency, released a statement: “Rhode Island needs to take the bat off its shoulder and swing…. We cannot afford to once again by labeled as the state that can’t get out of its own way.”
The most recent news arrived last week, with the Rhode Island Senate Finance Committee releasing a revised ballpark bill proposal, halving revenue from stadium-rights between the PawSox and Pawtucket and allowing up to $85 million worth of bonds to be issued by the Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency. The plan could be voted on in January, though the team has expressed some reservations.
Where will the PawSox play after the 2020 season? 2017 held plenty of intrigue, but that question is a long way away from being answered.
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