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Telegram & Gazette (Massachusetts)

 

PAWTUCKET, R.I. — Mayor Donald Grebien made a public plea here to Rhode Island lawmakers Tuesday, asking them to act immediately and approve state funding for a new Pawtucket Red Sox stadium or risk losing the team to Worcester.

During a noon "now or never" press conference, Grebien said losing the Triple-A baseball franchise to Worcester is a real possibility.

"The Worcester, Mass., deal is real and make no mistake about it," he said. "The city of Worcester and the state of Massachusetts understand what has been so hard for us to break through in the General Assembly, what this means for economic development and the opportunity for this community."

Grebien said he doesn't know

the specifics of the deal in Worcester, or if it's been finalized, but he said it's "rumored to be cheaper for the team" than the deal in Rhode Island.

Worcester City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. said Tuesday that the city has not finalized any deal to build a ballpark for the PawSox, though he acknowledged the city's efforts to lure the team.

"We continue to have regular conversations with the PawSox and we did have another meeting with the team last week. We look forward to continuing those conversations and seeing where they lead," Augustus said in a statement.

In Pawtucket, the city would contribute $15 million and the state $23 million — plus interest — for a total of $45 million toward a new $97-million stadium to replace aging McCoy Stadium.

But Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has made no promise of a vote, beyond Finance Committee hearings, when the next legislative session begins Jan. 2.

That wait-and-see approach doesn't sit well with Grebien, who urged state leaders to consider a Plan B if they aren't willing to vote on the stadium-financing plan.

That plan would have let Pawtucket finance the entire public portion of the deal by allowing the city to get all state income and sales taxes now generated at McCoy Stadium.

Otherwise, Grebien warned, the state will likely lose all that revenue anyway to Worcester, whose efforts have intensified to lure the team across the state line.

Last week, PawSox chairman Larry Lucchino, vice-chairman Mike Tamburro, general manager Dan Rea and chief financial officer Joe Goldberg were part of a lunchtime meeting with Worcester City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. that lasted about three hours in the Levi Lincoln Room on the third floor of City Hall.

Economist Andrew Zimbalist and lawyer Jeffrey Mullan, who specializes in redevelopment issues, were also in attendance. Both have been hired by Augustus to work on the proposal as consultants.

Asked about the state's role in Worcester's attempts to draw the PawSox, Gov. Charlie Baker's spokesman Brendan Moss did not directly answer questions posed to him, but said the administration is "always willing to assist municipal partners in exploring potential economic development initiatives."

But on Dec. 1, Baker spoke to the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce and indicated that he supports the city's initiative.

"We've basically told the leaders at the PawSox and frankly, a lot of the locals, that we'd be willing to work with any site that they deemed appropriate, and I do know that the folks from Worcester have put together a pretty compelling package," Baker said then. "Our message to Worcester and to the PawSox is that as they develop that proposal, we're interested in participating."

Whether the state is now participating in the process is unclear.

Samantha Kaufman, spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, said "it is too early to comment" and declined to respond to questions about the state economic development arm's role in discussions of relocating the PawSox to Worcester.

Last week, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo told the Providence Journal that she would not get involved in a bidding war with Massachusetts over the PawSox.

"I think it would be really sad if we lost the PawSox to Worcester ... but no, I am not going to get into a bidding war. We can't afford a bidding war," she said.

Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce President Tim Murray said Tuesday the chamber has been "actively supporting" the city as it pursues the PawSox and has provided information to both the city and team. He said landing the PawSox would be a coup for the city.

"A lot of economic development momentum is already underway in the city, but certainly this would be a feather in the cap," Murray said.

Material from State House New Service and The Providence Journal was used in this report.

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