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Guest MINDSETTER™ Don Grebien: McCoy Stadium, Where History Still Lives

Sunday, July 12, 2015

 

In 1998, the state partnered with the late, great Ben Mondor to provide funding in the amount of $20 million for improvements to the McCoy Stadium. These improvements increased the seating capacity to AAA requirements and helped make McCoy the best stadium in Minor League Baseball. In keeping with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the ball park was made accessible to the disabled and seniors. The (free) parking lot was also redone. That is what a public/private partnership is supposed to be. The improvements were about the public good and increasing access to the fans which added value for both the fans and for Ben Mondor as the owner.

The substantial investment made by the taxpayers of Rhode Island in McCoy Stadium, to benefit all of our great state’s baseball-loving fans, should not be merely thrown away. Naturally, as Mayor of Pawtucket, it is my role to represent Pawtucket in all things. It was certainly no different when the new ownership group announced plans to move the team, however, as time has gone by and I have heard from so many Pawtucket Red Sox fans from around Rhode Island and beyond, I have now come to see my role as not only representing Pawtucket, but also the taxpayers of Rhode Island and Pawtucket Red Sox fans everywhere.

McCoy is their stadium after all. They invested in McCoy. They invested more than just their tax dollars, too. They invested in the PawSox and broader Red Sox Nation brands. They invested their time, their passion for the game, and they made memories and history at McCoy that can’t be recreated in Providence or anywhere else for that matter. That, I believe, is the heart of why the public reaction has been what it has been to this point. The public’s personal and emotional ties to the Pawtucket Red Sox and McCoy stadium are tangible and real, and part of their very identity as fans and Rhode Islanders, and rightfully so since they’ve invested so much.

I have asked the new ownership group for the feasibility study of McCoy they have said they commissioned. This study should provide everyone with an understanding as to the level of investment necessary to further improve the physical conditions at McCoy. The current lease extension, signed just over a year ago, calls for such a study paid for by the team and state, but if the new ownership group has already had one done, we may be able to save taxpayer money if they provide us with that study.

The future of McCoy must be a critical part of every public discussion regarding the future location of the team. McCoy’s best days may very well be in front of us. We won’t know until we fully examine the feasibility study. As I stated before when I asked our state leaders to slow the process down, they need to have all the facts in front of them in order to make the best decision on behalf of Rhode Island taxpayers. This matter is too important to Rhode Island and Pawtucket to move forward in any other manner.

I continue to hear from members of the development community about the challenges the new ownership group faces at the proposed Providence location. I also know that the land was freed up with the stated goal of attracting large-scale employers from out of state, and there will be political challenges for the state to make such a dramatic course change. With all this in mind, and the shared belief with so many fans that Pawtucket is and should always be the home of the Pawtucket Red Sox, just as Fenway Park is the iconic home of Red Sox Nation, we continue to urge the new ownership group to reconsider their stated plans and choose to remain one of our greatest partners here in Pawtucket.

It's an exciting time in Pawtucket. We are revitalizing and developing our beautiful riverfront and are capitalizing on our recent National Park designation. We have lured and attracted new businesses by creating a business-friendly environment and companies and developers have taken notice. We are investing in our schools and our infrastructure and are repaving our city streets. There is sweeping positive change occurring here in the City of Pawtucket. Just in the last week, we unveiled a transformative mixed-use development on our riverfront, just three tenths of a mile from McCoy Stadium, that will include more the 200 residential units, as well as commercial and retail space, all with stunning river views and a river walk connecting the development to the newly renovated State Pier. We remain hopeful that the new owners will see the value that Pawtucket has given their brand and that the growth we are experiencing will only strengthen it. We hope they will Join the Evolution here in Pawtucket.

Don Grebien is the Mayor of Pawtucket.

 

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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