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NEW: Bill to Require Voter Approval for PawSox Stadium in House Finance

Friday, June 05, 2015

 

The Rhode Island House Finance Committee is hearing testimony Thursday afternoon on legislation to require voter approval for any financial agreement the State of Rhode Island may make with any professional sports franchise -- including any new PawSox stadium in Providence.

"Tax dollars come from our citizens' paychecks. It is only fair that they should be given the right to say 'Yes' or 'No," said Representative Patricia Morgan (R- District 26 West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick) who will present testimony at the hearing. 
 
"Although the Pawsox' quest for a new publicly-financed stadium in Providence has been slowed, apparently it has not been abandoned.  This bill will require state officials to obtain voter approval before obligating taxpayers to fund any new stadium or facility for the Pawsox or any professional sports team," said Morgan.

38 Studios, Convention Center

Morgan cited 38 Studios -- and the Republican Policy Group's study of the RI Convention Center -- as two reasons for backing the bill. 
 
"Some may argue that voter approval slows the process too much and that Officials can adequately vet proposals and judge the correct course," said Morgan. "We disagree and believe that the collective voice of taxpayers should be the ultimate arbiter.  The history of 38 Studios has shown the weakness in giving a small group of internal policy makers sole authority.  That proposal, which is costing taxpayers over $100 million, was never adequately researched, examined or understood.  The results have been disastrous and costly for taxpayers."
  
"Also, this legislation would stop the deceptive practice of using lease agreements as an end run to voter knowledge and approval," continued Morgan.  " During the Republican Policy Group's study of the RI Convention Center Authority,  we discovered that, although voters had never been given the opportunity to vote on the building of that complex, they were obligated to pay all expenses related to it, including its debt service, operating expenses, and maintenance costs.  All combined, taxpayer subsidy will be over $780 million by the time the debt is paid, which makes 38 Studios seem small."
 

 

Related Slideshow: The Ten Biggest Questions Facing the PawSox Coming to Providence

If the new ownership of the Pawtucket Red Sox want to build a new stadium in Providence, a number of questions need to be answered.  The potential for a major contruction project in the state's capitial city touches upon a number of issues, from money, to politics, to jobs, and development.  

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Owner interests?

What are the owners looking for from the state?

It's been one week since the new ownership group of the Pawtucket Red Sox was announced -- and their intention to look at Providence as a potential new location for the Red Sox AAA affiliate.  How long this has been their plan is unclear but what is more certain is the new owners are considering the pursuit of some public funding to be on the table.  What will they be seeking from the city and state, and how much?  As the state still reels from the failed 38 Studios deal, look to see what might be proposed -- and how the public reacts.  

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Public funding?

How much is the city -- and state -- willing to give?

While the new ownership has indicated that Providence is tops on their list for a new location for the PawSox, there are other cities and towns that could vie for attention. "I said to Mr. Skeffington, if Pawtucket could pull it out, would they be interested, but he said basically if it's not Providence, it would be a broader catch area," said City Council President Louis Aponte, of his conversation with the new ownership.  As the state and its capital city deliberate the best use of downtown real estate -- and the news 195 land -- how much will they be willing to make the new owners happy, especially if they starting pitting Providence against other locales?

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Economic impact?

What is the potential economic impact on Providence?

If Providence is the new home of the PawSox, it gets a ball club that has seen attendance at McCoy top 500,000 for 16 straight years -- only Louisville, Columbus, Buffalo, and Indianapolis have longer streaks.  "Anytime you can draw in on average 7500 people for games, it brings brings value to the state," John Gibbons, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Sports Commission, told GoLocal in January.  "That type of business doesn't necessarily draw in hotel use, but I know those facilities nearby do well when the PawSox play, and I know they bring in tax dollars every night with the sales at the park."  Jobs aside, watch to see who conducts economic impact studies -- and what that means in terms of any negotiations between owners and the city. 

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Jobs retained?

How many jobs will be retained?

Pawtucket's loss is Providence's gain, and the questions is does that go for jobs as well as economic impact.  How many of the existing PawSox job holders will see an opportunity in Providence?  Will the new ownership bring in new vendors, new office staff, new grounds crew? Will there be any downsizing in an attempt to streamline operations?   

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Jobs created?

How many jobs will be created?

One of the bigger questions is will a new Sox stadium create any new jobs in a state that certainly needs them.  Construction of a new stadium would no doubt provide short-term labor opportunities for the buildings and construction trades, but what about long term opportunities?  The development of the 195 land is beginning to take shape after addressing infrastructure needs, and now the city and state are looking to capitalize on the potential to foster high job growth industries.  Does a new baseball stadium fit that bill?  

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New business?

What will get built around it?

The potential location for a baseball stadium that is currently being discussed is the land just to the north of the South Street Landing project, the mixed-use multi-million dollar project will be a new home to a Rhode Island nursing education Center, Brown University offices and graduate student housing as well as a parking garage.  There are multiple 195 parcels on the land west of the river.  Will addition parking options be needed?  The PawSox play approximately 70 home games a year.  Who will step up as potential new neighbors?

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195 Plan?

How does it fit into 195 development?

Governor Gina Raimondo during her campaign called for the 195 land to be used as a manufacturing hub.  “In order to rebuild our economy, we have to start making things in Rhode Island again,” said Raimondo during the campaign. “My strategy will be to take the good ideas coming out of our universities and colleges and turn them into products we manufacture here. We have a historic opportunity with this I-195 land and we have to get it right." There are over eighteen acres available for development -- and Raimondo shook up the 195 commission last month with her own set of appointees, who have yet to make any major moves - as of yet.  

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Transparency?

What level of transparency will be disclosed?

The announcement of the sale of the PawSox to its new ownership group was followed by a press conference led by new owner James Skeffington.  While Skeffington offered ballpark figures for how much a new stadium might cost -- he cited $60-$70 million for other stadiums of its size -- what's unclear is how much the owners paid for the ball club.  If the ownership (whose personal wealth combined totals over $1 billion) seeks public funding, how much will they be willing -- and required -- to disclose about personal financial interests?

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Big picture?

Should Raimondo focus on larger issues?

Rhode Island's new Governor is entering her third month in office, set to introduce her first budget proposal in two weeks, and is facing tackling a projected $200 million budget deficit.  Having recently announced a working group to overhaul Medicaid, following identification of the state's most pressing fiscal issues, can the Governor afford to spend time brokering a deal for a minor league sports stadium?  Raimondo spoke of a state Innovation Institute being the cornerstone of her 195 vision -- will subsidizing a minor league ballpark be a focus of the administration?  

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Track record?

How have other deals performed – Convention Center, Airport, 38 Studios, Produce Market, Providence Place?

Providence hasn't seen major capital projects since Waterplace Towers changed the city skyline following the completion of the Providence Place Mall and the new Convention Center.  Since then, the failed 38 Studios deal has brought into scrutiny private companies being underwritten with moral obligation bonds -- and tax stabilization agreements in the city have similarly undergone scrutiny by the city council and taxpaying public.   Will a look a past projects play a role in the development of a stadium?

 
 

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