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Poll: Most RI Voters Support Decision to Not Increase PawSox Ballpark Offer

Pawtucket Red Sox

Fifty-one percent of Rhode Island voters support the state’s decision to not pump more public money into a proposed Pawtucket Red Sox (Class AAA; International League) ballpark project, according to a new poll.

The poll from WPRI 12/Roger Williams University comes in the aftermath of the PawSox’s decision to relocate to Worcester, MA. Prior to announcing in August that they intend to move to Worcester, the PawSox had lobbied for state approval of a funding package for a new downtown Pawtucket ballpark to replace McCoy Stadium.

A ballpark financing deal was approved by the Rhode Island Senate in January, but House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello opposed that deal, claiming that it lacked public support because it put too heavy of a burden on the state. A revised deal was released months later, and eventually approved by the House and Senate before being signed by Rhode Island governor Gina Raimondo. Despite that process, the bill had came with financial uncertainty. It called on the PawSox to make a $45 million contribution to a new downtown Pawtucket ballpark, with the state paying $26 million and the city allocating $18 million. In addition, the team would pay $12 million after approval of the plan. However, the legislation left open several uncertainties, as it withdrew state backing of the bonds and instead put it on the back of bondholders, which was likely to result in higher borrowing rate.

The PawSox ultimately opted to move forward with plans for the Worcester ballpark, which they are expected to open in 2021. While their departure would end a long tradition in Rhode Island, the new poll found that 51 percent of voters believed the state was correct to not put more public money into its proposal, compared to just 38 percent who believe that the state should have put more financial resources into the plan. The results of the poll are not necessarily an indicator that voters wanted the team to move, but just they did not want Rhode Island making a more generous offer. More from WPRI 12:

“I don’t know if the voters are saying ‘good riddance’ to the Pawtucket Red Sox,” said Eyewitness News political analyst Joe Fleming, who conducts the poll. “They’re saying, ‘We don’t want to spend taxpayers’ money to keep the Pawtucket Red Sox here.’ I think if you said to them, ‘Do you want the Pawtucket Red Sox to stay in Rhode Island?’ the answer would be yes.”

The landline and cell-phone interview poll was conducted Friday, Sept. 14, through Monday, Sept. 17, by Fleming & Associates of Cumberland, Rhode Island. The survey has an overall margin of sampling error of plus or minus approximately 4.8 percentage points. Fleming has been conducting polls for WPRI 12 since 1984.

The survey results are a vindication of sorts for Mattiello, who has faced vociferous criticism from some quarters for dragging his feet on the PawSox issue and then backing legislation the team would not support. The speaker has said repeatedly he did not believe Rhode Island taxpayers were comfortable with a major generous offer.

Plans for the new six-acre Worcester ballpark, tentatively named Polar Park, would open for the 2021 season and serve as the centerpiece of an 18-acre, 650,000-square foot mixed-use development. Under the financial terms of the proposal, the total cost of the ballpark is expected to be between $86 million and $90 million, with the city of Worcester borrowing $100.8 million ($70.6 million in general obligations bonds, $30.2 in bonds backed by team rent payments) to cover construction costs and the PawSox owners paying $6 million toward construction. Rent payments are pegged at a little over a million dollars annually, for a total of $30.2 million over 30 years. Worcester officials say increased tax payments generated from the project, including additional development, will cover the difference.

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