Minor League Stadium Plan Support, Obstacles Remain

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Telegram & Gazette (Massachusetts)


PAWTUCKET, R.I. - On the day the city of Pawtucket and the PawSox revealed how they propose to finance a new baseball stadium, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo said she supports the proposal because the deal seems to "pay for itself."

But two groups immediately attacked the plan as bad for taxpayers.

PawSox chairman Larry Lucchino and Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien on Tuesday outlined the terms of an agreement for which they're now seeking state support. The deal includes taxes generated at the site over 30 years that the city and state would use to pay down the debt from about $38 million in bonds issued by the Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency.

Lucchino and Grebien said it would cost $73 million to build the stadium at the Apex department store site next to Interstate 95. But the city and team project another $10 million is needed for the city to acquire the land - either by buying it from the owners or by taking it under eminent domain.

And there would be millions more in interest - how much would depend on the interest rate.

Here's how the team and city have structured the 30-year deal they've proposed:

  •  $45 million from the PawSox for ballpark construction, including an early, $12 million cash outlay and $33 million from revenue generated by the team over the next three decades at the ballpark.
  • $23 million from the state in the form of tax revenue generated in and around the stadium.
  • $15 million from the city, also in tax revenue generated in and around the stadium.

The team has agreed to pay any cost overruns for stadium construction costs, Lucchino said.

Essentially, the team is asking the state to commit about $1.2 million each year and to approve the bonding by the Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency.

Much of the financing is contingent upon state General Assembly leaders granting authority for the agency to issue bonds that would provide cash up front to cover stadium construction costs. Plus, the city would create a tax-increment financing district around the stadium to set aside taxes generated by the ballpark and some new development built around it to pay off bonds.

Consultants for the team and city estimated personal income taxes, corporate taxes and sales taxes on construction materials would generate about $3.1 million for the state in 2020 - and additional food, beverage and other taxes would generate between $3.2 million and $3.5 million in the stadium's first five years.

Comparatively, those consultants said McCoy's current operations generate $1.3 million, and similar taxes would generate as much as $1.6 million if McCoy were renovated.

PawSox senior vice president and general manager Dan Rea III called the proposal a "self-supporting project" because the estimates of what a new ballpark would generate in taxes over 30 years is $58.7 million. That's about 2.5 times what the team and city are now asking the state to commit from that anticipated revenue.

State House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello did not respond to a request for comment. Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio said legislators will analyze and review the proposal "and the public will have the opportunity to make their voices heard."

Raimondo said in an interview she's urging state legislators to consider the plan because it's a "much better, much different deal than last time" and would help revitalize Pawtucket.

Raimondo said her analysis includes consideration of the $23 million that legislative leaders will be asked to commit. She weighed that against the $30 million to $35 million estimated for repairs at the 75-year-old McCoy Stadium, the team's current home.

"There was no free lunch on this," Raimondo said, after saying she believes the team belongs in Pawtucket and her job is to protect the taxpayers. Had the team and city now asked for those repairs at McCoy, Raimondo said, "You would have paid $30 million just to patch up an old stadium that's one of the very oldest in the country."

But two organized groups immediately opposed the proposal - the Rhode Island Republican Party and the Stop the Stadium Deal group that organized against the team's failed 2015 proposal to build a new stadium in Providence.

"This proposal is simply a bad idea. Rhode Island taxpayers cannot afford to subsidize a new ballpark," Republican Party Chairman Brandon S. Bell said in a news release, especially when the state faces a projected revenue shortfall for the state budget of about $100 million.

Bell questioned whether Mattiello and Raimondo "really want to explain to the voters how they postponed car-tax relief and pushed for cuts to social services while giving millionaires $38 million to build a new ballpark?!"

The chairman of the Stop the Stadium Deal group, Sam Bell, who is not related to Brandon Bell, said in a release: "The ownership group's plan seems to be little more than trying to pretend that they aren't asking for a gigantic mountain of public money - and hoping that Rhode Islanders are stupid enough to buy it."

Lucchino, though, said the team has learned its lessons, and he urged the naysayers of the past proposal to consider what he called "an old favorite saying of mine" by the late economist John Maynard Keynes.

"And he says, 'When the facts change, I change my mind.' Don't you?" Lucchino asked, urging people to discover "very different facts, very different proposals" between 2015 and now.

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May 18, 2017


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