Guest MINDSETTER™ Stewart: Supporting PawSox Gentrification Efforts is Not Progressive

Sunday, November 12, 2017


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Recently it has been argued by some that “Hating on PawSox proposal shouldn’t be a progressive value.” Sorry, but actually it is due to the extremely awful things that are entailed in this deal.

Let's begin with the modus operandi of the major team owner, Larry Lucchino. He is not a longterm community investment type akin to the late Ben Mondor. Instead, he is a sports venture capitalist who has a long record of working in tandem alongside real estate interests to promote gentrification of low-income urban communities wherever he goes. American finance has recognized in the past quarter century the cyclical fruition of neglecting the urban core since the start of the Baby Boom after World War II. As white middle class families were offered low-interest mortgages in suburbia, the banking system abandoned the cities, leaving urban centers to deteriorate and people of color to fend for themselves while being redlined out of the suburbs their white contemporaries were flocking to.

Now, as the suburbs have reached their peak capacity for investment, meaning there is less value to derive from neighborhoods full of McMansions, the deteriorated and underserved city is seen as the place to begin investing in again so to derive money from residents. But in so doing, the cost of rents for residents steeply increase, meaning that the current poor residents are kicked out of their apartments and go to the homeless shelter. Lucchino's time in Baltimore with the Orioles was a significant factor in why a rebellion broke out in 2015 relating to the death of Freddie Gray. I vividly remember Pawsox president Dr. Charles Steinberg, who worked with Lucchino in Baltimore, bragging about how this type of “renewal” had taken place in Baltimore after they built the new ballpark as if it were not something to be ashamed of several years ago when he was touring the state with an extremely out-of-touch speaking tour trying to sell the project to the taxpayers. Let's just cut this obfuscation now and accept that, as a leopard does not change his spots, so a Lucchino does not change his business model.

While it is true that the movement of the proposed park from the current McCoy Stadium location to the old Apex building site would seem to significantly negate fears about gentrification, it is not as simplistic as one would suppose. This is because the current package of bills includes a significant change in the breadth and scope of eminent domain laws, something the AP reported on in September. The current laws now designate that eminent domain can be utilized to take control of so-called “blighted and substandard” properties, which itself is a dubious pair of adjectives considering the long history of racism in real estate property laws. Such an adjustment might be used at a future date to justify all sorts of land acquisitions on the behalf of private capital. Want to build a new public complex where those duplexes are currently standing? Hey, why not, they could be up to code on every type of residential rentier metric of analysis and still be taken over by eminent domain!

Furthermore, the notion of a baseball stadium being a catalyst for urban renewal in Pawtucket is a deeply problematic one. These “renewal” projects almost consistently entail the kinds of renovations on the street level that in turn causes the property owners to called for increased levels of policing in what they now consider “their” neighborhoods. It is clear from the discussion that is going on now that there is a desire to see something akin to the Main Street strip from East Greenwich plopped down into the middle of Pawtucket. That changes the entire dynamic of policing in the entire city and will impact communities of color in a way that would mirror those in Baltimore.

Atlanta was the site of a massive sports building spree in the 1990's due to the selection of the city to host the 1996 Olympics. In a recent story titled ‘Gentrification is sweeping through America. Here are the people fighting back’ published by The Guardian in conjunction with the Atlanta Black Star, Cliff Albright writes “n preparation for the 1996 Olympics, an estimated 30,000 low-income Atlanta residents were displaced from their homes in order to make room for the new Olympic Stadium. Landlords in the area sought to raise rents to take advantage of proximity to the Olympic venues which meant many had no choice but to leave. In the process, 1,195 public housing units were gone, and by 2000, only 78 of the families from the former public housing were rehoused in the shiny new development – a mere 7% of the pre-Olympics population. Moreover, the project launched a new agenda that ultimately resulted in Atlanta becoming the first US city to completely demolish all of its housing projects, eliminating 17,000 units of public housing.” That is a case study worth being wary of.

As with the fracked gas power plant in Burrillville, it is readily evident that the Building and Trades Unions are being put in a position that is damned if you do, damned if you don't. Both construction projects are fundamentally and undeniably going to do tremendous harm to people of color and the poor if they are allowed to move forward. Building a new fossil fuel power plant that prolongs the use of fracked natural gas will prolong our window of time emitting greenhouse gases, which in turn will increase the pain and suffering of frontline communities on the spear tip of climate change's impacts. Building a new stadium could cause the displacement of people of color and the poor. Simultaneously, after decades of systemic flaws that caused the AFL-CIO to be a bastion of white supremacy, we see these unions are now exceedingly made up of black and brown membership. Indeed, the largest demographic of American union membership is now African American women!

What can explain such a contradiction? This is at its core the nature and problem of the labor system within our society. Finance, insurance, and real estate as monopoly-like industries have effectively owned our economy since the end of the 1970's. That FIRE sector, the very set of actors who caused the 2008 crash, has been connected since the beginning to the fossil fuel industry also. The history of the intertwined banking and fossil fuel conglomerates dates back to the days of Standard Oil and families like Aldrich and Rockefeller. And so what the Building and Trades Unions are asking for is to create a jobs program with a decent human resources benefits package for a section of their working class membership while building projects that are fundamentally and undeniably detrimental to the entirety of the working class, including in the long run their membership!

This rather Faustian bargain is one that the union rank-and-file have been forced into in a way that I have total sympathy for. Yet their leadership, particularly individuals like Michael Sabitoni, are another story. As Steve Ahlquist reported in July 2016, Sabitoni was working with the anti-union Koch Brothers via a group called Energy4Us to proliferate false information about the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure to his membership. I've seen him call the opponents of the power plant people with a heavy dose of NIMBY-ism. Now can we expect the same sort of accusations about the Pawsox?

The recent multi-day power outage statewide caused by a climate change-generated storm demonstrated undeniably that we need to move away from National Grid to a decentralized power system made up of renewable energy generation systems, including solar panels on every rooftop and windmills for every neighborhood. These are the sorts of projects that the construction unions need to be pushing for. We already have a Green Infrastructure Bank, set up by Treasurer Seth Magaziner, that can finance these projects. All that is missing is the political imagination to make them a reality.

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Andrew Stewart is a member of the Rhode Island Media Cooperative, an organization created for freelancers by freelancers which you can join for free.


Related Slideshow: 7 Questions the PawSox Need to Answer in Hearings

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Who is responsible for the environmental clean-up costs?

As GoLocal exclusively reported in May, the owners of the Apex site in Pawtucket and the previous owners are battling in Superior Court over indemnification provisions from more than $6.4 million in environmental clean-up costs tied to the land being eyed for the new PawSox Stadium.

The two parties include Andrew Gates of Apex Development Company who purchased the property for $24 million and a number of members of the prominent Fain family, who previously had ownership interest in the property.

Gates’ entity purchased the property in December of 1998 according to city tax records and the property is now assessed at just under $4.3 million — a drop of nearly $20 million in value.

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Who is on the hook for the public subsidy (and the entire Stadium cost)?

Critical to the proposal gaining approval by legislators and building public support is that financing costs are not backstopped by taxpayers. Presently, that is in question. 

Seth Magaziner, RI's General Treasurer, has raised the red flag about the proposed legislation, “The debt study that we did, no surprise, the liabilities of the City of Pawtucket are pretty high. That being said, the legislation as introduced does suggest that there’s a state backstop.”

He made the comments in an interview with WPRI.

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Why should a group of billionaires receive a public subsidy for their sports team?

The owners of the PawSox have a combined personal wealth that makes them among the most wealthy ownership groups in all of professional sports.


Their fortunes are linked to CVS, Providence Equity, Fleet Bank, TJX, and the Boston Red Sox. Unlike the previous owner, the late Ben Mondor, this group has refused to meet the public or speak to the media.

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Can Pawtucket support the debt obligation?

While bond rating agency Moody's ranks Pawtucket's future outlook as stable. Moody's flags factors:

Credit Challenges:

Large unfunded pension liability

High fixed costs (combined pension, OPEB costs and debt service)

Low wealth and income indicators

Increasing debt

Weak tax base growth

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They Have Political Support - Will Raimondo Flip Again?

Proponents, including the ownership group, must feel that Rhode Island is moving quicksand. Governor Gina Raimondo supported the Providence stadium plan until she didn't. 

She supported the initial financing structure for the Pawtucket location, negotiated by her Secretary of Commerce Stefan Pryor, then flipped on that proposal and announced her opposition.

Now, she is supportive of the pending stadium deal. Is she willing to bet her re-election on it?

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38 Studios, St. Joseph Pension Fund Bankruptcy, and Wrong Track RI

There may only be one Rhode Islander who loves RI's inability to properly review critical financial deals -- Attorney Max Wistow who sued to recover 38 Studios assets and now has been engaged to investigate the largest pension fund (St. Joseph Health Services) collapse -- just three years after the RI Attorney General Peter Kilmartin gave the sale of St. Joseph's assets the green light.

The 38 Studios deal under minded confidence and now the recent failure of St. Joseph's bankruptcy has only fueled the concern that RI cannot properly review financial deals.

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Opposition - can they be mollified?

From Libertarians to Republicans to Progressive Democrats -- there is a sweeping array of opponents to the proposed public subsidy. See VIDEO


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