PawSox sign with Worcester, governor points finger at legislature

A RENDERING of the newly announced Worcester, Mass., stadium that will house the Pawtucket Red Sox following the end of the team's tenure at McCoy Stadium. / COURTESY PAWTUCKET RED SOX
CONSTRUCTION OF Polar Park, in Worcester, Mass., seen above in a rendering, has been halted due to the spread of COVID-19. / COURTESY PAWTUCKET RED SOX

Updated at 7:51 p.m. with comments from Gov. Gina M. Raimondo and 9:41 with details from the city of Worcester.

PROVIDENCE – The Pawtucket Red Sox have signed a letter of intent to move the team to Worcester, the central Massachusetts city announced Friday at a press conference at Worcester City Hall.

The cost of the stadium is expected to be $86 million, according to a memo from the city of Worcester obtained by PBN. The project will involve the city, the state, the team and private developer Madison Downtown Holdings LLC and is much larger than the stadium.

Phase one of the plan is expected to cost roughly $208 million, and in addition to the stadium will include two hotels, 225 market-rate apartments, a 350-500 space parking garage, and 65,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space. In addition, the state has agreed to redesign and reconstruct Kelley Square and improve the transportation infrastructure in the city in support of the stadium.

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A second phase of development has the potential to add 200,000 square feet of residential, office and/or mixed-use development to the city.

The public contribution to the financing of the stadium will be in the form of roughly $100 million in city-floated bonds that will be used for the building of the ballpark, land acquisition and other costs. Of that total, $70 million will be paid by revenue generated in a special District Improvement Financing area around the ballpark, including parking revenue (the stadium will be publicly owned and is projected to be used for many other events throughout the year), hotel and retail taxes, and other levies placed on those individuals and companies involved in the district, an amount the city and the team calculate will total $3.7 million per year. The remaining $30 million in bonds will be paid off by the lease payments from the team. In addition, the team will contribute $6 million in equity, while the state will contribute $35 million for its part in the project. The rest of the development costs will come from private capital.

The city said in its memo that no existing city tax revenue would be used to fund the project. “New taxes and other revenue sources generated within the DIF District will be used to pay for the ballpark,” according to the memo.

The deal has a projected completion date of March 2021, leaving the PawSox to continue to play at McCoy Stadium for the next two years.

The deal is now subject to approval from the Worcester City Council, the International League and the National Association of Professional Baseball leagues.

In a press conference late Friday afternoon, Gov. Gina M. Raimondo said the loss of the PawSox was disappointing and avoidable. She laid blame at the legislature, saying had it acted more quickly and approved the deal negotiated by her administration, the team likely would have remained.

“The legislature had this before them for over a year,” she said. “That gave the PawSox a lot of time to go find another deal. They found another deal.”

She noted that the indications coming out of Worcester are that the team secured a state subsidy in Massachusetts that is probably two to three times what Rhode Island could have provided.

Raimondo did not identify House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello by name in her comments, instead referring to the legislature as the entity that didn’t act fast enough. The Senate approved legislation last year that contained the administration’s deal. The ballpark proposal stalled in the House once Mattiello said he was opposed to it.

A revised proposal that emerged from the House in this year’s legislative session was more “challenging” for the state’s administration, as it tried to keep the PawSox in Rhode Island, Raimondo said.

“My team was meeting with the PawSox a week ago, trying to make something happen,” she said. “And what came out of the House just made it more challenging.”

She did not identify the specific problems posed by the revised ballpark financing legislation, which she had signed.

The decision of the team to leave the Ocean State came as a surprise to her, she told reporters. In fact, no representative of the team had spoken to her directly by Friday afternoon. Stefan Pryor, the state’s commerce secretary, was the point of contact for the team.

“I think we were all a little bit surprised, to be fair,” she said. “The mayor, who, this is a city of Pawtucket effort, I don’t even think they talked to him. Certainly that is a little disappointing. Considering all the time and effort we put into this. We were talking to them only days ago, in negotiation.”

Her focus now, she said, is on helping Pawtucket find a new use for McCoy Stadium. It is too early to discuss specifics, she and Pryor said, but the state is committed to the economic development of the city.

“We will get together with the mayor. We will explore all options. We’re committed to making sure it is not an empty stadium. That we will do,” she said.

“It is extremely disappointing to learn of today’s decision by the PawSox,” said R.I. Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio in a statement. “The Senate did everything it could to pass responsible legislation to keep the PawSox in Rhode Island. I am very grateful for the commitment and hard work of Chairman Conley and the Senate Finance Committee. The committee was extremely diligent, holding over 30 hours of public hearings during an exceptionally open and transparent process. In recognition of the opportunity before us to revitalize downtown Pawtucket while preserving a Rhode Island institution, the Senate voted in the opening weeks of session this January to pass a responsible ballpark plan.”

In his announcement, PawSox Chairman Larry Lucchino had some conciliatory words for Pawtucket, “I thank the mayor of Pawtucket, Don Grebien, who is a wonderful partner, an honorable public servant, and an heroic champion of his city. We continue to wish him well and will remain supportive of his efforts to improve his city.  We also thank the fans of our region, who have loyally supported this baseball club for decades.”

The design and construction of the stadium will be overseen by Lucchino and Janet Marie Smith.

The relocation to Massachusetts followed a drawn-out process in Rhode Island that saw multiple expressions of a deal that ultimately became more expensive after an R.I. House bill removed liability from the state and placed it on the city of Pawtucket, increasing the cost of bonds that would be issued to the team.

Ruggerio also added that he thought the Senate legislation that was passed would have been accepted by the team.

“The Senate legislation was fair to the team and beneficial to state and city taxpayers,” said Ruggerio. “I am certain that the team would have stayed in Pawtucket had the Senate bill passed into law. I am proud of my colleagues in the Senate for their work on the ballpark proposal.”

Mattiello also issued a statement Friday that said the PawSox lacked loyalty to the state.

“It is disheartening the PawSox did not show the same loyalty to the City of Pawtucket and the State of Rhode Island as the taxpayers and fans have shown to them for many decades,” said Mattiello.

Mattiello also said that, “The state’s proposal contained strong protections for the taxpayers and shifted the risk to the investors. It was responsive to the concerns of the taxpayers who made it clear that they did not want to accept the risk contained within the original proposal.”

In a statement, Lt. Gov. Daniel J. Mckee lamented the loss of the team.

“The departure of the PawSox marks a missed opportunity for economic development in the Blackstone Valley,” said McKee in the statement. “I have great respect and admiration for Mayor Grebien and the local leaders who fought tirelessly for a city they love and a cause they knew was important to all Rhode Islanders. I was proud to stand with them in this fight. Now, I am calling on state leaders to join me in committing to invest in the City of Pawtucket to jump-start the economic revitalization this community deserves.”

Chris Bergenheim is the PBN web editor. He can be reached at PBN staff writer Mary MacDonald contributed to this report.

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