PawSox Sign Letter of Intent to Build a Triple-A Ballpark in Worcester
Saturday, August 18, 2018
The Pawtucket Red Sox today signed a Letter of Intent to build an innovative downtown ballpark in Worcester, Massachusetts that would be scheduled to open in 2021. PawSox Chairman Larry Lucchino today signed the letter in a ceremony at Worcester’s City Hall with Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, Mayor Joseph Petty, and City Manager Ed Augustus. The project is subject to the approval of the Worcester City Council, the International League, and the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (“Minor League Baseball”).
“We are eager to build an innovative, family-friendly ballpark that reflects the love and appreciation of baseball and that unifies Central Massachusetts and the Blackstone Valley Corridor,” Lucchino said.
The design and construction of the ballpark would be overseen by Lucchino and Janet Marie Smith, who partnered to create Oriole Park at Camden Yards in 1992 and who together oversaw a decade of improvements to Fenway Park, starting in 2002.
Lucchino also spearheaded the effort to create and design Petco Park in San Diego and JetBlue Park in Lee County, Florida. Smith is currently Senior Vice President of Planning and Development for the Los Angeles Dodgers. She will continue in that capacity, overseeing improvements to Dodger Stadium, while participating in the design of the ballpark in New England.
“This day marks a major milestone on a journey that began 12 months ago,” said Pawtucket Red Sox Chairman Larry Lucchino. “Through the entire process, the spirit of collaboration and cooperation between the City of Worcester and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has been inspiring.
“The contagious enthusiasm of the leaders of the business community, and of everyday citizens, has been warm and welcoming, starting of course with the now-famous 10,000 postcards we received from all over Central Massachusetts, organized by the Canal District Alliance.
“We have noted how proud people are of this city, how committed they are to its continued resurgence, and how excited they are to inscribe a new chapter in its long and rich baseball history.
“We look forward to designing and building an innovative downtown ballpark with year-round uses that further enlivens the city, enhances its civic self-esteem, and adds to its beauty. We are eager to create a wonderful point of pride for children and students and families throughout Central Massachusetts.”
The PawSox will continue to play at 77-year-old McCoy Stadium the next two years. Pawtucket and Worcester are part of one market as defined by Minor League Baseball.
“I thank the Mayor of Pawtucket, Don Grebien, who is a wonderful partner, an honorable public servant, and an heroic champion of his city.” Lucchino said. “We continue to wish him well and will remain supportive of his efforts to improve his city. We also thank the fans of our region, who have loyally supported this baseball club for decades.”
“I also thank the City Manager of Worcester, Ed Augustus, who worked relentlessly while leading a process that contained few bumps or bruises, few delays or abrasions. He and his talented team—and the entire community—have led us to this point.
“I would also like to express our gratitude to Worcester Mayor Joe Petty and the 11 City Council members for their encouragement, support, and public service.
“We are also here because of the leadership of Governor Charlie Baker and, especially, the tireless can-do attitude of Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. Good things happen when we all work together.
“We look forward to celebrating with everyone in the Heart of the Commonwealth…and the Heart of New England.”
Related Slideshow: Who Lost the PawSox? August 2018
Starting from nearly day one, the new ownership group of the Pawtucket Red Sox -- a collection of some of America’s most wealthy businessmen -- saw their investment in the team as a “gift” to Rhode Islanders and that their vision of a mega-stadium in Providence was a windfall.
The ownership group’s early strategy was to demand more than $140 million in subsidies and tax breaks and that led to strong public backlash.
The ownership group -- with a collective net worth of $6 to $8 billion, later blamed the late Jim Skeffington for the misstep, but the collection of owners all thought that for a small investment in the PawSox -- $2 million to $3 million per owner, reportedly, the windfall potential was tremendous -- and all financed by taxpayers.
Raimondo’s Flip Flop
As the Providence proposal took on water Governor Gina Raimondo reversed field and went from supporter to opponent on the financing structure.
Raimondo, who had once chided critics about complaining about the move from Pawtucket to Providence, flipped on the ownership group and ultimately opposed the Providence financing deal. The implications were two-fold.
First, it raised questions with owners about who to negotiate with and how to negotiate with Rhode Island’s government in good faith. Second, it did tremendous damage to her already strained relationship with Speaker of the House Nick Mattiello. Her change left him the last official holding the political hot potato.
After Jim Skeffington’s death, former Boston Red Sox top executive Larry Lucchino took over the ownership effort to site a new stadium.
Lucchino, who had built stadiums in Baltimore and San Diego for major league franchises, had a formula. While his ownership group in Boston had failed to build a new Fenway Park in Boston due to public opposition, Lucchino put forth a series of demands and, more so than any factor, lead to the team’s stadium efforts failure.
First, he would not wait until after the 2018 election. Second, he refused to have the owners take on the final financial backstop. Third, he refused to acknowledge that times had changed — that minor league baseball’s popularity which peaked in the 1990s was long past.
Public Support — No Millions for Billionaires
At the end of the day, Rhode Islanders, by an overwhelming majority did not want to invest taxpayer dollars in a public stadium.
According to two GoLocal polls conducted by Harvard’s John Della Volpe which asked, “The Rhode Island General Assembly is in the process of negotiating a $40 million public financing deal with the Pawtucket Red Sox for a new stadium, hoping to bring a vote before the House and Senate this summer.
In general, do you favor or oppose the use of public funds to help finance a new stadium for the Pawtucket Red Sox?”
Net: Favor 33%
Strongly favor 13%
Somewhat favor 21%
Net: Oppose 59%
Somewhat oppose 21%
Strongly oppose 38%
Don't know 8%
Lack of Functional Leadership
In the end, the dysfunctional relationship between Raimondo, Mattiello, and Ruggerio doomed a viable solution — maybe from the beginning.
Instead of a united front by the three top political leaders, the owners got greedy and tried to manipulate the division of the state’s Democratic leaders.
Democrats Raimondo, Mattiello and Ruggerio are as aligned as Iraqi ethnic groups Kurds, Sunnis and Shias. Yes, they are all Democrats, but their trust and ability to co-govern often fails.
“Trust and reliability are the key ingredients in any public-private deal. Polls show about 60% of Rhode Islanders opposed the project which reflected in part a lack of trust in elected officials. The owners grew not to trust Rhode Island pols because of the way the process and negation unfolded at the State House,” Gary Sasse of the Hassenfeld Institute tells GoLocalProv.
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