Pawtucket soccer project leaders express optimism, but give few details on progress

R.I. COMMERCE SECRETARY Stefan Pryor, left, Fortuitous Partners principal Brett Johnson, second from left, and Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien discuss the $400 million soccer stadium project at a Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce event in Providence on Thursday morning. / PBN FILE PHOTO/NANCY LAVIN
R.I. COMMERCE SECRETARY Stefan Pryor, left, Fortuitous Partners principal Brett Johnson, second from left, and Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien discuss the $400 million soccer stadium project at a Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce event in Providence on Thursday morning. / PBN FILE PHOTO/NANCY LAVIN

PROVIDENCE – Leaders involved in the $400 million soccer stadium development proposed for Pawtucket painted a rosy picture of progress at a Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce event Thursday morning, but they offered few details on what they have achieved since announcing the project in December.

Brett Johnson, principal of project developer Fortuitous Partners, R.I. Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor and Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien gave an update on the project before a standing-room-only crowd at a Chamber breakfast on Thursday.

The Tidewater Landing project, slated for three separate riverfront properties in Pawtucket, calls for a 7,500-seat soccer stadium, a 200-room hotel, an indoor sports center, retail, residential and infrastructure improvements. The stadium would be home to a professional United Soccer League Championship team.

The project is to be financed by private investment and about $70 million to $90 million in public funding through a tax-increment financing plan that uses revenue from the project to pay for public infrastructure.

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Since announcing Tidewater as the winning submission from a request for proposals in December, Pawtucket has entered into a 120-day due diligence period intended to fine-tune project details and financing.

With a little over a month to go until that window closes, Johnson and Grebien expressed optimism over the progress they have made and the future for the proposal.

Much of the work achieved has been behind the scenes, Grebien said, naming discussions over land acquisition, environmental regulation and other government processes as the current focus. While Grebien acknowledged that the regulatory process, along with project financing, posed the biggest hurdles, he said things were moving in the right direction.

Johnson also said he had lost no sleep over raising the capital needed to finance the project, and that preliminary interest from investors far exceeded the amount he would need to develop the project. However, he did not detail any firm commitments, explaining that he needed more than the nonbinding agreement with the city to nail down investors.

Asked whether he envisioned the city finalizing its agreement with Fortuitous when the due diligence period ends next month, Grebien said he was optimistic. Pryor, however, said there may be a need for an additional examination period, a possibility he characterized as “understandable.”

“This puzzle is going to come together but the pieces may assemble in a different sequence than we envisioned,” Pryor said.

One way the project could differ from its initial proposal is in the inclusion of the Apex site, where the sports center, hotel and conference center are slated to go. The site is privately owned and prior attempts by the city to buy it have been unsuccessful. While Johnson said the project can be reconfigured on the other two properties if needed, Grebien said the city is the “closest it’s ever been” to reaching an agreement with the property owners.

The city is also working with National Grid regarding acquisition of the Tidewater property, and has already begun the process of signing over development rights to the third property along Division Street, which is already under city ownership, according to Grebien.

The National Grid site, which formerly housed operations for Pawtucket Gas Co., has been reported to need significant environmental cleanup before development. Grebien characterized the initial evaluation of environmental remediation as “minimal,” though.

R.I. Commerce Corp., which in conjunction with Pawtucket solicited proposals for reuse of McCoy Stadium and revitalization of the city’s downtown, estimates Tidewater Landing will create 2,500 direct and indirect construction jobs and more than 1,200 permanent jobs after completion.

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