Pawtucket Red Sox ballpark House vote expected Friday, following committee approval

Updated at 10:30 p.m.

PROPOSED SITE: The Apex Department Store building in Pawtucket, the proposed location of a new PawSox ballpark, can be seen in the background during a walking tour of the city’s downtown area with Mayor ­Donald R. Grebien and Commerce Director Jeanne Boyle. / PBN PHOTO/MICHAEL SALERNO
PROPOSED SITE: The Apex Department Store building in Pawtucket, the proposed location of a new PawSox ballpark, can be seen in the background during a walking tour of the city’s downtown area with Mayor ­Donald R. Grebien and Commerce Director Jeanne Boyle. / PBN FILE PHOTO/MICHAEL SALERNO

PROVIDENCE – The House is expected to take up the Pawtucket Red Sox ballpark Friday afternoon, after the measure gained approval from the powerful Finance committee.

After a short debate in the House on the legislation, Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello, D-Cranston, agreed to move consideration of the bill to 3 p.m. Friday. He wanted to try to get a vote on it Thursday, he said as the process got underway, but several members noted the late hour and said they hadn’t had time to review the bill.

Consideration of the bill started about 9:45 p.m., about 20 minutes after it was approved and forwarded by the House finance committee.

Said Rep. Moira Walsh, D-Providence: “This is a 21-page bill we received less than a half-hour ago.”

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The legislation was amended in committee to include several changes.

Among other things, it now clarifies that adjacent parcels to the ballpark site are what will be included in the tax increment financing district.

Before the bill was tabled for the night, Rep. Patricia Morgan, R-Coventry, spoke against it. The ballpark is not economic development, she said. It will provide 70 days of seasonal jobs, she said.

“They don’t make money, they don’t pay for themselves,” she said, based on other communities with minor league parks. “They are an amenity, to be true, but they don’t pay for themselves. In this case, they are going to take tax revenue that could be used for so many other things of higher purpose.”

If approved by the House Friday, the measure would also need to move through the Senate again, as that chamber approved a different version last year.

The House version attempts to shelter the state from liability to repay the bonds to build the ballpark, estimated at $83 million.

Under the proposal, the Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency, not the state, would issue the $38 million in bonds to be repaid by city and state taxes in a redevelopment district around and including the ballpark.

The PawSox team would contribute $45 million, via $33 million in bonds and $12 million in owner equity.

The shift of the bond issuance from the state to the city agency is expected to increase the borrowing costs, according to a presentation made in May to the finance committee. The “special revenue bonds” would be repaid only from revenues generated within the Pawtucket district, the boundaries of which have yet to be identified.

Under the new terms, the state would no longer be involved in the lease of the ballpark. The property would be owned by the Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency and leased to the team.

The ballpark would provide a new downtown Pawtucket location for the PawSox, which is one of the state’s top 10 tourist and cultural attractions.

In 2017, McCoy Stadium attracted 600,000 people, according to the PBN 2018 Book of Lists. The figure includes attendance at non-baseball events, such as concerts.

Opponents seized on what seems to be new momentum in the bill.

State Rep. Patricia L. Morgan, R-Coventry, the House minority leader, in a news release said the new deal is even “worse” than the Senate version.

“Pawtucket is already struggling under its own weight,” Morgan wrote, citing unfunded pension obligations, a high debt burden and a budget that includes new tax increases.

“How can it afford to give up all the property taxes on a large area downtown with a size still yet to be totally determined? Not only will the city be forfeiting the current property taxes it collects, but Pawtucket will also be giving up those tax collections for 30 years into the future.”

Mary MacDonald is a staff writer for the PBN. Contact her at macdonald@pbn.com.