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Revised PawSox Ballpark Funding Bill Raises Questions

Pawtucket Red Sox

A revised funding bill for a new Pawtucket Red Sox (Class AAA; International League) ballpark is being debated by Rhode Island officials, who have plenty of questions about the proposal.

Earlier this year, the Rhode Island Senate approved a bill that would fund the proposed downtown Pawtucket ballpark. In that legislation, the Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency would be permitted to borrow a maximum of $85 million for the project, with the PawSox making a $33 million contribution, the state paying $23 million, and the city allocating $15 million. In addition, the team would pay $12 million after approval of the plan.

However, Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello criticized that bill, believing that it put too great of a burden on state taxpayers. A revised bill released earlier this week effectively eliminates the state backstop that would cover any potential shortfalls. The proposal was discussed during a Rhode Island House Finance Committee hearing on Thursday, and officials acknowledged that some questions have to be addressed. Among them are the exact borrowing costs for the parties involved. More from The Providence Journal:

[Commerce Secretary Stefan] Pryor’s questions include whether investors will buy stadium revenue bonds and how much higher borrowing costs for the state, city and PawSox will be under the plan, which does not include a state guarantee as the Senate bill passed earlier this year did.

John Simmons, of the business-backed Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, estimated that the absence of a state guarantee could result in $300,000 to $800,000 in additional interest payments a year. He also recommended lawmakers require the PawSox to stay in Pawtucket while the 30-year bonds are being repaid.

Stadium critics had even more questions.

“The cost to the taxpayers is going up with this bill, no question it is going to be more than the Senate’s version,” Republican National Committeeman Steve Frias, who nearly unseated Mattiello in his Cranston district two years ago, told the committee.

The bill only specifies the team’s contribution, which remains at $45 million, but the Journal reports that “House staff have said the intent is to keep the same $23-million state contribution and $15-million city contribution.” The Rhode Island Senate passed its bill in January, but Mattiello quickly came out with his opposition to the plan and there had been questions over the last several months about what a revised bill would look like.

The proposed PawSox ballpark is being pitched for the site of an Apex department store in downtown Pawtucket, and proponents have argued that it could be a catalyst for development in the area. If it is built, the ballpark will replace McCoy Stadium, the oldest active Class AAA facility in Minor League Baseball, as the PawSox’s home.

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