Moore: Will PawSox Move be a Sweetheart, Insider Deal?

Monday, March 02, 2015


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If you think that the shrewd, savvy, group led by renowned Rhode Island political insider James Skeffington and Red Sox boss Larry Lucchino bought the Pawtucket Red Sox without the framework of a deal with the state in their back pocket, I've got a video game business idea I'd like to pitch to you.

And that's concerning. Rhode Islanders feel like they have been taken advantage of too many times. People should be skeptical about a group of fast talkers who are as politically connected as they are intelligent, swooping in and buying the Pawtucket Red Sox for a song, and then proposing to build a stadium on the route 195 land.

Pay Before Play

Over the last several years, James Skeffington--who has made a lucrative career for himself, in part, by garnering business from the state of Rhode Island, has donated $5,300 to Governor Gina Raimondo. How convenient for Mr. Skeffington that Raimondo will make key decisions about the future of this project.

Some of the other co owners have also donated big money to Raimondo. Thomas M. Ryan, former CVS CEO, donated $2,500 to the governor since 2012. And J. Terrence Murray, another part of the ownership group, has donated $2,000 to Raimondo since 2013.

That might not be pay to play, but it certainly looks a lot like it. 

With that in mind, it's fair for Rhode Islanders to be concerned that the public treasury could be used and abused to build this stadium on the prime real estate in Providence referred to as the "route 195" land.

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The $75 million dollar question now is how much money the new Pawtucket Red Sox owners are going to beg the state for in order to make their enterprise as profitable as possible. Rhode Islanders may be willing to give them the land to build the stadium, but it seems like we're in no mood to finance their stadium for them.

Corporate Socialism

To do such a thing would be social investment for private profit, and that's corporate socialism.

What's also concerning about this proposal is that the land in question was supposed to be where the state was going to get its major economic development. Ever since the 2010 political campaign we've been promised that real economic development, (think finance or technology jobs), not minimum wage ballpark jobs, will be located there. Thus far, that promise has been as empty as a minor league stadium on a winter's afternoon.

The latest spin is that the parcel of the land where the ballpark will be located was always supposed to be slated as a "green space", or park. If that's true, giving the new ownership the land on the cheap would be worth considering. The ballpark would be an additional attraction in the city and there would be sales taxes generated from park concessions.

A Question of Fairness

Yet there's also a question of fairness. If the new owners are given a sweetheart deal with free or almost free land as well as tax breaks, that will hurt the businesses nearby who had to do everything the right way in order to support giveaways like the new owners are seeking (like buy land and pay full taxes). In a state where everyone's always talking about small business, it always seems to get the short end of the stick.

Look, nobody would like to see the Pawtucket Red Sox just up and leave the state. The nostalgia for the ballpark and the club being located in Pawtucket, my hometown, will rival that of Rocky Point if the teams leaves as planned.

But if we're talking dollars and cents, not feelings, let's face it, the Pawtucket Red Sox have never been a big revenue generator for the state of Rhode Island and certainly not for the City of Pawtucket. The State of Rhode Island owns McCoy stadium and leases it to the team for $1 per year. That's a sweetheart deal. But even that's not good enough to satiate the greed of the team's new owners.

Robber Barons

In 1998, the stadium was renovated on the taxpayer's dime to the tune of $15 million. That's a lot of dimes. Now, less than 20 years later, these robber barons are poised to move the team somewhere else while yearning for an ever sweeter deal.
But while Rhode Islanders love the Pawtucket Red Sox, it's a shame to see that love leveraged , most recently by former Red Sox superstar Curt Schilling, who's harebrained video game company went belly up faster than you can say Bloody Sock, leaving RI taxpayers about $100 million lighter.

Sometimes the best deal is the one you don't make.

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Russell Moore has worked on both sides of the desk in Rhode Island media, both on political campaigns and for newspapers. Send him email at [email protected] Follow him on twitter @russmoore713.


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