A victory for soccer fans and state officials backing the $124 million Pawtucket soccer stadium: Construction has resumed after a months-long timeout, with 23 trailer-loads of steel headed to the western bank of the Pawtucket River in the next month.
That’s according to Dan Kroeber, managing partner of private developer Fortuitous Partners, who shared an update on the project with the Pawtucket City Council at its Sept. 6 meeting.
Now, the bad news. Construction on the accompanying housing, retail, and infrastructure improvements across the river from the stadium won’t start for at least another year, and there’s no private funding lined up yet to pay for it.
“Unfortunately, we wish we were a year ahead of where we are right now,” Kroeber said in the meeting.
The project has been plagued by multiple delays since first selected through a competitive city bidding process in 2019. Initial problems centered around acquiring a private property included in the proposal – which was later dropped from the plans – and finalizing agreements between city and state officials over the tax-increment financing paying for part of the project.
The latest knocks come thanks to supply chain slowdowns and rising interest rates, which have hiked costs for the project. The price tag for just the stadium soared from $84 million to $124 million. Last year, R.I. Commerce Corp. reluctantly agreed – with Gov. Dan McKee casting the tiebreaking vote– to funnel nearly all of the $36 million in tax-increment financing to the stadium, rather than reserving it for later, public parts of the project.
Meanwhile, the developer struggled to raise the $50 million in private financing, forcing a halt on construction on the 10,000-seat stadium this spring. Not anymore.
After announcing last month that it secured the remaining private equity and commitments needed, contractors are back working on the site, with vertical construction beginning “within the month,” according to Kroeber.
A single, stationary crane loomed above the pitch Monday, with a handful of construction workers in neon vests gathered nearby, working despite the dark clouds looming above them.
“There’s going to be a lot of really exciting progress that everybody’s going to see in the coming weeks and months,” Kroeber told the council.
As for the sale of the city and state bonds helping pay for the stadium – expected to be returned through revenue generated by the project – the timeline remains vague. Kroeber said the public and private financing must close together, a benchmark he expected “in a matter of weeks, or a couple months at most.”
Grace Voll, a spokesperson for the city, said in an emailed response on Monday that the simultaneous closing will happen this fall, but did not have an exact date.
In addition to the tax-increment financing, the state has also kicked in $14 million in tax credits, while Pawtucket gave $10 million in stimulus funds for a total of $60 million in public funding. Fortuitous is covering the remaining $80 million through a combination of private equity and debt.
Rhode Island F.C., the United Soccer League team that will call the stadium home, will play its first season, in 2024, at Bryant University, with plans to kickoff in Pawtucket in 2025. The team is looking for players, scouting across the world and at home, with hopes of announcing its first pick in the coming weeks, according to Kroeber.
Meanwhile, the 500 housing units, retail and office space, plus parking and infrastructure improvements planned for the eastern side of the Pawtucket River are still in permitting and design. And with a majority of state dollars already allocated for the stadium, it’s up to the private developer to come up with the money.
Just how much money they need is also unclear. In 2022, Fortuitous pegged the entire project, including the stadium, at $344 million, but also said it needed to refine its plans for the second phase of development to get a more precise cost estimate.
A spokesperson for the company did not respond to questions Monday asking for an update on cost estimates.
Despite the project’s troubled past and hazy future, Kroeber struck an upbeat tone when sharing news to the council, again affirming the developer’s commitment to completing the project.
“We are moving,” he said regarding efforts on the second phase of development. “We intend to do all of that, and get that going right away.”
Councilmember David Moran urged Kroeber to keep the council updated, including on any new snags it might encounter.
“I just want to make sure so we don’t have to read about it in the paper,” he said.
Several other council members pressed Kroeber about an October loan taken on by Brett Johnson, Fortuitous Partners principal and founder, in which he used his stake in the stadium project as collateral, according to filings with the California Secretary of State’s office. Kroeber repeatedly assured them that the holding companies, Fortuitous Tidewater OZ Fund, LLC and Tidewater Stadium, LLC, had been removed as collateral on the loan.
An Aug. 18 update to the legal filing shows the stadium entities are no longer listed as collateral.
Nancy Lavin is a staff writer for the Rhode island Current.
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