David Brussat, Dr. Downtown: The Red Sox and the PawSox

Monday, March 02, 2015


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Pawtucket’s Triple-A baseball team was a feeder of talent to the Boston Red Sox during most of the Curse of the Bambino. Now that the Bosox actually have an ownership stake in the PawSox, the quality of its minor-league spigot in Pawtucket gets more attention from Boston, especially since Fenway Park has become a money-printing plant. Owner John Henry can afford to pump and prime the Red Sox fountain of youth to the max.

A robust minor-league franchise can help the mother ship land more frequently in the World Series. If I were a young player of recognized talent looking at my options, I would rather play in Providence than in Pawtucket, just as most major-leaguers would rather play in New York or Los Angeles than in, say, Houston or … well, you get the picture.

Providence and Pawtucket

So while I would rather see the PawSox remain in Pawtucket, the allure of Providence is understandable, assuming the new owners don’t buckner the deal. Deciding whether to support or oppose the move means going out on a limb in either direction. My heart says stay, but “stay in Pawtucket” may mean “leave Rhode Island” unless it means “move to Providence.”

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courtesy of allthingsbubba.blogspot.com

The question is whether the economic and spiritual hit to Pawtucket is greater or less than the potential economic and spiritual gains for Providence and Rhode Island. The answer pits a known against an unknown. The sad fact is that the spiritual outweighs the economic in the scale for Pawtucket. But whether a stadium would benefit Providence is harder to know. Rhode Islanders must await various assurances to reduce the uncertainty. But we cannot wait long.

It would be fair to seek some sort of ironclad commitment that the team will not cost more for parking and seats than it does in Pawtucket. To boost the experience beyond the means of the average working-class family would be a deal breaker. Many families with greater means will prefer to go see the Red Sox in Boston. A minor-league team is a local allure. If the Providence baseball experience is priced out of reach, the city may look forward to a stadium that runs on empty much of the time. The new owners will poll this question, of course, and the numbers will be unknowable, undependable and hence meaningless. It’s a crap shoot.

The public sector and the private sector

It would also be fair to demand a minimum of public subsidy for this project. The Red Sox are now part of the ownership, and they can afford what most minor-league owners beg for the city or state to pay. The city and the state should tell the team to take a hike. That includes free land on the real estate intended for a public park. If new owner Jim Skeffington cannot get Bosox CEO and fellow PawSox owner Larry Lucchino to shake that Fenway money tree, he can hardly expect Rhode Islanders to wring blood from their state’s fiscal stone, at least not in the wake of Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios fiasco. Once built, a stadium is hard to pull the plug on.

Since Parcel 28 recently fetched $2.7 million from a private developer, the state can expect to ask $10.8 million for the proposed five-acre public park west of the Providence River. The state can and should wiggle out of any mandate that other land in the district be set aside for a park. 

Parks line the new waterfront, and nearby there are India Point Park, Roger Williams Memorial Park, Burnside Park and State House Park. A new park will be built on 195 land east of the Providence River. A park west of the river (thus far of ugly design) should not be allowed to nudge aside acreage devoted to high-tech redevelopment and job creation. Baseball could make new development on the 195 land more attractive than it has been so far.

The name of the game

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A sea of parking around the stadium would be another deal breaker. The team should have fans park for free at the Port of Providence and take ferries or fake trolleys down to the stadium. Jim Skeffington and his pals can almost certainly get the rubes in Washington to fork out for that. It is called congestion mitigation, and the feds love it. The Waterplace project received a 100 percent federal match for pedestrian walkways and bridges.

So the cost of parking and tickets should remain low, the subsidy should be little or nothing, and the design model should be Fenway Park and Lansdowne Street, not Alien Space Ship. With these provisos, a deal for a stadium in Providence might work, but it cannot work and must not be accepted without them. Oh yes, one more thing: a hard one-hour ceiling on a limited number of stadium rock concerts is an absolute must.

Finally, the name should remain the same. Just as we still celebrate holidays that have relocated to Mondays, we can call the team the PawSox even though it relocates to the nearby state capital. Providence owes that, at least, to the Bucket.


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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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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