Tidewater Landing soccer stadium backers pitch their vision at groundbreaking

PAWTUCKET – Promises abounded as government officials and developers sold their vision for Pawtucket’s soccer stadium project during a groundbreaking ceremony on Friday.

Indeed, descriptors such as “flagship venue,” “incomparable asset” and Pawtucket’s “community living room” peppered remarks by state and city leaders, developer Fortuitous Partners and a representative from the United Soccer League. The sales pitch comes amid ongoing concern over the Tidewater Landing project, including the public money being used to help pay for it.

A reworked financing plan that shifts nearly all of the already approved state and city bonds onto the soccer stadium, leaving little left to pay for the accompanying housing, retail and public infrastructure, was narrowly approved by R.I. Commerce Corp. last month, with Gov. Daniel J. McKee castinng the tiebreaking vote

Standing before the expanse of dirt and gravel slated to host a United Soccer League team, with white lines outlining the pitch, McKee offered an impassioned rebuttal to those who urged the state to hold off on the changes to the financing plan.

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A LONG VACANT SITE along the Seekonk River in Pawtucket is slated to become a 10,000-seat United Soccer League stadium as part of the Tidewater Landing Project. /PBN PHOTO/NANCY LAVIN

 

“This is the shot in the arm that Pawtucket needs,” he said. “I will not be the governor that turns its back on the city of Pawtucket.”

Brett Johnson, founder of Fortuitous Partners, also sought to assuage concerns that the reworked financing deal could leave the state with only a stadium and no guarantees that the other amenities are built.

“Let’s be very clear about this, this is so much more than soccer,” he said.

While the flagship, 10,000-seat stadium is first in line for construction, targeting a 2024 opening, the project also calls for more than 500 units of housing, plus retail, office and parking, and a pedestrian bridge connecting the two sides of the river. Increasing the amount of housing – initially it was slated to include 435 units – was one of the changes made under the amended financing plan, with talk about designating some of that as affordable.

THE TIDEWATER LANDING project is slated to include a soccer stadium, plus housing, commercial space and public infrastructure on either side of the Seekonk River. /COURTESY FORTUITOUS PARTNERS

Officials on Friday referenced “mixed-income” housing” in the project. However, exactly how many units will be income-restricted and under what definition is still not clear, with project partners saying they are waiting to see what state funding might be available before determining those specifics.

Similarly, proponents touted the “thousands” of jobs the project will create. But most of those jobs and the accompanying economic development stem from the non-stadium components, according to economic analyses of the whole project versus only the stadium commissioned by R.I. Commerce.

Already, the project may not pay for itself, according to a WPRI-TV CBS 12 analysis comparing how much revenue the stadium will generate in its first year versus the debt payments the city and state will have to make. And that’s assuming the $124 million stadium price tag doesn’t increase further, after jumping nearly 50% due to inflation and supply chain problems. The entire project is currently pegged at $344 million – up from $284 million – although project partners said previously they are still unsure of the the cost estimates and timeline for the project based on the latest changes.

Fortuitous is planning to unveil a team name, crest and colors “very soon,” Johnson said. 

The Pawtucket City Council is also expected to consider additional tax-increment financing using property tax revenue from the stadium at a meeting later this month, according to Dylan Zelazo, director of administration.

Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Lavin@PBN.com.