Leaders’ Reactions Mixed to Providence Sox Stadium Proposal

Monday, April 20, 2015


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The new owners of the Pawtucket Red Sox have announced their proposal to build a $85 million stadium in Providence  -- and while many Rhode Island elected officials and leaders have taken a wait-and see approach, a number have voiced their outright opposition to the plan as presented. 

SLIDES:  See Leaders' Positions on the Providence Stadium Proposal BELOW  

"This is a bad deal for Providence, the state's taxpayers, the economic progress of the state and creating new permanent jobs in Providence and Rhode Island. Placing a stadium that would be utilized less than six months a year in a location designated for economic development and as a job multiplier is a mistake when there are other places available including keeping the stadium in Pawtucket or locating it somewhere else in the state or Providence," said URI Distinguished Professor of Business Edward Mazze. 

"The real question is who will "blink first" - the governor, the mayor, the leadership of the legislature or the owners of the team," continued Mazze. "And, most importantly, what will be their justification for accepting the current proposal. Unlike previous bad economic development deals, where everyone claimed some degree of ignorance, this time there will be no excuse."

The plan put forth by the new PawSox owners touts $12.3 million in annual economic impact -- and calls for a thirty year lease deal at the cost of $120 million to Rhode Island taxpayers that needs legislative approval to move forward.

"It is still in the early innings. The chamber was briefed on the proposal on Friday and we expect that it is subject to change," said Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce President Laurie White. "Conceptually, it is very exciting. [We're] awaiting further details."

Elected Officials Voice Opposition

"I do not support the current proposal. Of course we want to keep the PawSox in Rhode Island. The vision that's been painted of the project is really exciting, and I would be very open to the give-and-take of a reasonable deal. But this proposal is not reasonable," said State Representative Aaron Regunberg (D-Providence). "The owners are asking for free land, zero property taxes, $120 million in direct public subsidies for an $85 million development project - and, of course, they get to keep all the profits from this stadium that the state will have (in the long run) paid for."

New Providence City Councilwoman Jo-Ann Ryan said that she does not support the project in its current form. 

"While many might agree that a ballpark in downtown Providence is exciting, we need to complete a cost benefit analysis. The owners proposal, released last week at a press conference, is too costly," said Ryan. "Now that an offer has been made, our financial review can begin in earnest. We will need to see a significant positive financial impact for this project to move forward."

Councilman Terry Hassett said that while he supports a stadium in Providence, he has concerns. 

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A lease plan under the current conditions requires legislative approval.

"My general concern is the public funding participation or concessions that have been presented. The Providence tax base has waned over time and potentially adding more exposure in property tax revenue remains a focus for me," said Hassett. "I believe this can happen and I'm in favor of it.  I remain concerned about the amount of financial obligations taxpayers will have should this development proceed as proposed. I think taxpayers are in favor but they remain concerned of what it will cost us to build and operate it.  I'm optimistic but I need more information from the owners."

Taxpayer Groups Raise Issues

Since its unveiling, a number of taxpayer organizations in the state have begun voicing concerns about the Providence baseball stadium proposal as put forth. 

"Remember that this would be a project with a very seasonal use.  So it would have a much more restricted capacity to generate economic activity," said RI Taxpayers' Monique Chartier. "Other uses of the stadium that the new owners of the Paw Sox have said they will pursue, including Brown and Bryant sports activities as well as concerts, are duplicative and would largely not generate new economic activity:  Brown has its own sports facilities and concerts would mostly draw events away from existing venues, such as the Convention Center."

"The owners of the Paw Sox have asked state and Providence taxpayers to pay a very high price for the stadium.  They want use of the land rent-free, effectively.  On top of that, they want state taxpayers to pay four million dollars a year for thirty years to the stadium.  They project - on the basis of data that they have yet to share - that half of this amount, two million dollars, will be offset by tax revenue generated by the stadium," continued Chartier. "But how realistic are these revenue projections?  And what if they are wrong?  Tax revenue back to the state is only a projection but the taxpayers would be committed to paying a very real four million dollars per year for thirty years."

An investigation by GoLocal showed attendance projections done by consultants Brailsford and Dunlavey when they wrote the business plan for the URI Ryan Center were ultimately overinflated.

Former Red Sox and PawSox player Mike Stenhouse, who is the CEO of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, said he believes the state should be open to working out a "better deal."   

"I do not believe the proposal should be viewed as a take it or leave it proposition, and I disagree with the knee-jerk reactions pro and con, because an opportunity this important for our state deserves intense negotiation, and ultimate compromise," said Stenhouse. "I would love to see a beautiful downtown ballpark. However, as head of a public policy think tank, I do not support large taxpayer handouts or special interest giveaways. But still, there may be a better deal to be struck, if our political leaders and the team owners roll up their sleeves and work it out."

Additional groups questioned the role of public dollars in the process.   

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Pawtucket Mayor Grebien hits out at new owners for how they are looking to take PawSox from McCoy

"The proposal is incredulous. The owners want the land, they want a 30 year exemption on Providence property taxes, they think they can move the underground utility infrastructure for $5 million (what happens when that number is underestimated), they want part ownership of the parking garage and then, after all of that, they want $120 million," said Pam Gencarella with OSTPA.  "It is clear that these owners do not care about Rhode Island's economy or the ability of taxpayers to carry this financial burden.  This state cannot afford “nice to haves” anymore.  We are still reeling from the 2008 crash along with insider deals like 38 Studios.  If this proposal, in any form other than a private venture, is approved, it will be nothing more than an insider deal."

City Officials Split

Following the owners' unveiling of their economic impact study, the City of Providence announced that it will be conducting its own analysis. According to Mayor Elorza's office, the administration will guide its review efforts according to the use of park space, infrastructure requirements, environmental impact, urban design and integration, multi-use feasibility, public, traffic, and economic impacts, and a cost/benefit analysis.  

"The state, city and fans have given millions of dollars to make McCoy the historic venue that it is today at its current location. Their support throughout the years has made the organization as valuable as it is today. Walking away from that commitment is wrong for everyone involved," said Pawtucket Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien. "From the beginning, the new business group unfortunately came in and without any discussion determined that Pawtucket was no longer good enough. It appears they have changed the model from one where families can afford to go and enjoy, to one that is purely based on business."

Baseball phoo:  JMR78


Related Slideshow: Leaders React to PawSox Owners’ Providence Stadium Proposal

The new owners of the Pawtucket Red Sox presented their vision for a new $85 million stadium in Providence -- including a lease agreement from the state that would require the owners be paid $4 million a year for the thirty year duration.

Now, elected officials and business leaders are weighing in on the initial proposal by the ownership group -- see below.  

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Gary Sasse

Former Rhode Island Director of Administration, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, and Founding Director of the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University

"A minor league ballpark may not be an economic game changer. Thus it's cost and benefits must evaluate environmental, cultural, social and economic factors. The key point is any stadium should be consistent with the overall strategic development of Providence. This story has not been told yet."

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Edward Mazze

University of Rhode Island Distinguished Professor of Business

"I would like to see the PawSox stay in Rhode Island. I do not think Rhode Islanders should pay for a new stadium for the next several decades or see Providence not collect taxes that could make it to a better city.....with better schools, lower property taxes and a lower automobile tax. To support the current proposal, there has to be tax payments to Providence, a financial deal with Pawtucket by the owners or the state to deal with the empty stadium and the owners paying for the new stadium with little in the way of state government assistance.

If there is state government financing assistance, there must be a guarantee that the team would not leave the state for the length of time of the financing. It would be interesting if the owners would consider selling "seat licenses" as a way of raising funds to build the stadium. This would be a real market test as to whether or not there is a need for a new stadium."

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Monique Chartier

Spokesperson, RI Taxpayers

"The Paw Sox owners have asked the City of Providence for a waiver of property taxes.  But the last thing that Providence needs is to remove yet another property from tax rolls.  City Council President Luis Aponte's request that state taxpayers make up lost property taxes is understandable but out of the question, especially in light of the state's own very serious budget deficits.

Governor Raimondo has correctly pointed out that the state has very limited resources to invest in economic growth.  These limited resources cannot go to develop prime public land into a very seasonal use that will have minimal impact on the economy at a substantial cost to local and state taxpayers.  Our state leaders must say no to this project and return to the vitally important work of helping ALL businesses, not just one, by improving the state's tax and regulatory climate.  We as a state can consider whether to participate in the luxury of a sports stadium as soon as our economy is healthy again."

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Pam Gencarella

Spokesperson, OSTPA

"If Skeffington and his very wealthy partners want the PawSox in Providence then they should put an offer on the table that covers all of the costs to make it happen. They must provide revenue to the state for the land that they want to develop, and property tax revenue on its full value to the capitol city."

Pictured: James Skeffington

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Mike Stenhouse

CEO, RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity

If the team is seeking taxpayer dollars, then taxpayers should get something in return, whether a share of equity or a slice of team revenues. For example, the federal government received equity for its investment in GM, while the Green Bay Packers are owned by citizen shareholders. It's not beyond possibility; let's find a way to make it happen."

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Terrence Hassett

Senior Deputy Majority Leader, Providence City Council

"I believe the stadium is beneficial to Providence and the state. The parking capacity must be resolved in favor of the stadiums' fans that is fair and reasonable. What events and other uses are not being presented which I find troublesome. A stadium is a great venue for families, colleagues and generally, baseball fans to enjoy. A $120 million commitment from state taxpayers is a large role asked of them wherein the return on the participation is not convincing to date."

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Aaron Regunberg

Rhode Island State Representative, (D-Dist 4, Providence)

"For me to support a deal, that $120 million figure needs to come down dramatically, and a strong community benefits agreement needs to be reached. I also think it would be reasonable - if the state is making a significant public investment in the project - to see the state receive a portion of the profits from the stadium."

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Laurie White

President, Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce

"It is still in the early innings. The chamber was briefed on the proposal on Friday and we expect that it is subject to change. Conceptually, it is very exciting. Awaiting further details."

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Gina Raimondo

Rhode Island Governor

"The PawSox are an important institution in Rhode Island and our goal is to keep them in the state," said Raimondo. "The idea of a stadium in downtown Providence that can be used for multiple purposes is exciting. That said, my top priority is getting Rhode Islanders back to work, and we have very limited resources to invest in economic growth - especially in the face of a large structural deficit. I am committed to working with Mayor Elorza, the Speaker, and the Senate President to evaluate whether this project is in the best interest of Rhode Island, and whether we can afford it."

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Stefan Pryor

Rhode Island Commerce Secretary

"We hope and aim to keep this treasured team in Rhode Island. The project has the potential to enhance the vitality of a key district within our capital city. At the same time, this proposal involves a significant request for public resources. In collaboration with the City of Providence and the General Assembly, we will review this proposal in order to determine whether it makes financial sense and whether it will help catalyze the I-195 corridor." 

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Nicholas Mattiello

Rhode Island Speaker of the House of Representatives

"We have not received a written legislative proposal yet, but when we do, it will be thoroughly analyzed.  I will be talking to my House colleagues and I will gauge public opinion before making any assessment on the direction the state should move in."

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Teresa Paiva Weed

Rhode Island Senate President

"The proposal that has been presented by the new owners of the Paw Sox to build a professional ballpark in Providence potentially represents a significant investment in Rhode Island. The proposal will be fully analyzed by the full Senate in a thorough and transparent process.”

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Jorge Elorza

Mayor, City of Providence

“The prospect of keeping the Red Sox’ Triple A team in Rhode Island represents a significant and exciting development opportunity for our city and state. We have coordinated to develop guidelines that ensure a thorough analysis of the stadium proposal.  As Mayor, I am committed to continue working in close coordination with Governor Raimondo, Council President Aponte, our leaders in the General Assembly and the I-195 Commission as we move forward to make Providence and Rhode Island a better place to work, live and do business in the long term."

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Luis Aponte

Providence City Council President

“The stadium has the potential to be catalytic and transformative in the way residents and visitors experience Downtown Providence. With the promise of drawing hundreds of thousands of spectators annually to the city, the stadium could help spur development of the nearby I-195 parcels, and generate additional revenue for the city and the state. We are committed to working with the Governor, the General Assembly, and the developers to ensure the project aligns with our goals and vision for the city, and that it is a good investment of our resources.”

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Donald Grebien

Mayor of Pawtucket 

"Perhaps the state should consider buying the franchise and reinvest in Pawtucket. It would be more cost effective and the state would have ownership at the end of the deal," said Grebien Communications Officer Rico Vota.  "The Mayor has received many calls, emails and postings from fans throughout the state that do not support this current proposal. He is very careful to make sure that his decision is not solely based on the fact that he represents Pawtucket who would loose this valuable, historic ballpark. As someone who comes from the private sector, this deal only makes sense for the new business group and not the state of Rhode Island in its current structure."


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