Ted Nesi’s Saturday Morning Post: May 16

Happy Saturday! Here’s another edition of my weekend column for WPRI.com – as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to tnesi@wpri.com, and follow @tednesi on Twitter.

1. How tough is it to get a read on the PawSox negotiations? Tough enough that I rewrote this item four times on Friday. PawSox spokeswoman Patti Doyle reports the new owners “continue to work diligently on a revised proposal,” and a spokeswoman for Governor Raimondo says 195 Commission Chairman Joe Azrack, her point person on the deal, “has been in contact with the owners throughout the week.” The ball seems to be in PawSox President Jim Skeffington’s court – Raimondo doesn’t want to be the governor who lost the team, but her aides view a bad deal as worse than no deal. One option could be something similar to the St. Paul Saints’ agreement, where taxpayers get a share of the stadium’s revenue, but a lot depends on how much Skeffington is willing to cave. When he made his original request for $120 million he insisted to reporters, “We’re not highballing,” and he still sounds miffed that it was so poorly received. Meantime, the clock is ticking if a stadium agreement is going to be part of the state budget, as Speaker Mattiello might prefer. If a deal isn’t announced next week, there’ll be mounting doubts about whether one is possible at all.

2. Lots of Rhode Islanders want the PawSox to stay at McCoy, but Jim Skeffington and Larry Lucchino have ruled that out in no uncertain terms. They say it would cost $66 million to bring McCoy up to the standard they require, and even then it wouldn’t be the urban ballpark they desire. So where in Massachusetts would the team go? While plenty of locations have been floated – Worcester, New Bedford, Dartmouth, Foxboro – the most interesting option may be Springfield. (Dan Yorke, who used to work there, has said the same.) Springfield is 90 minutes away from Fenway Park. It hasn’t hosted professional baseball in 50 years. And it provides a plausible source of private capital: MGM Resorts International, which is building an $800 million resort casino there. The company already provided the land for a minor-league stadium outside its Biloxi facility, and the business case is reasonable – it would put thousands of people at the casino’s doors 72 or so nights a year.

3. The Blackstone Valley Tourism Council got big coverage this week for bringing sports economist Victor Matheson to Pawtucket to make the case against the Providence stadium. But it was a risky move politically as the council fights a proposed 50% cut in its $360,000 annual hotel-tax subsidy, because the group was using its resources to fight a Rhode Island tourism project just a few miles outside its own territory. That’s especially true since Speaker Mattiello is on record as a supporter of the PawSox proposal.

4. Monday night on WPRI 12: Tim White asks if the Wickford Junction station was worth the money.

5. Has Governor Raimondo considered Wexford Science + Technology, the BioMed Realty division that develops tech campuses, to help build her innovation hub on the old 195 land? The governor’s office isn’t saying, and neither is Brown University, an obvious partner for such a project. As for Wexford itself, BioMed Realty spokesman Jim Cullinan wouldn’t get specific when we talked earlier this week. “Wexford has partnered with universities around the country to create innovation districts and knowledge communities,” Cullinan told me. “So we look at a lot of opportunities. … It takes a very unique set of circumstances for us to get engaged and it’s a process. It’s a combination of both ourselves, the local universities and government coming together to invest in an area. But that takes time.” For a sense of what Wexford does, check out their Wake Forest Innovation Quarter and University of Maryland BioPark.

6. Living in Rhode Island makes young people less likely to get married.

7. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from WPRI.com reporter Dan McGowan: “With all eyes on what the state will do to help the owners of the Pawtucket Red Sox build a baseball stadium in downtown Providence, officials in City Hall are reminding Rhode Island lawmakers the capital city is going to need some support as well. Mayor Elorza made it clear during a taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers Friday that he supports bringing the PawSox to Providence, but said he ‘would like to have a revenue stream to at least be made whole for our additional expenses and our investment in the stadium.’ Elorza said that extra money could come from the team – possibly in the form of a $1 surcharge on tickets – or from the state, but ‘it has to make sense for Providence.’ He also disputed the comments of some City Council members who’ve expressed concern about sitting on the sidelines while the state negotiates a deal, indicating that he meets regularly with Jim Skeffington’s ownership group. Of course, the baseball stadium isn’t even the most expensive proposed project for the city. That honor goes to the $100.2-million streetcar line that would connect the train station with Rhode Island Hospital through downtown. Elorza acknowledged that he was skeptical of the plan during his campaign for mayor, but said he’s convinced the 1.6-mile line can boost economic development. Still, just as with the PawSox park, he believes the city needs a better deal. As it stands now, the streetcar has secured $13 million in federal funding, and Elorza supports borrowing $57.7 million to cover the city’s share. The city plans to seek state and additional federal aid to make it happen, but if that money doesn’t come through, Elorza said the project is unlikely to move forward.”

8. One thing to watch the night House lawmakers release the revised state budget: how much of Article 29 is in tact? Article 29 contains Governor Raimondo’s suite of proposed economic-development tools, from the $25 million fund for the 195 land to her Rebuild Rhode Island real-estate tax credits. The consensus is she’s got a solid shot at getting most of what she wants; members of the establishment business community, who have the ear of Speaker Mattiello, are generally quite supportive of the various ideas. Obviously, getting what she wants will be a big victory for the new governor – but then she’ll need to prove the programs can actually have the impact she’s suggested.

9. For the first time in years, fewer than half of Rhode Islanders think the state’s on the wrong track.

10. Hillary Clinton is coming to town next month for a fundraiser at Mark Weiner’s. And it won’t just be Weiner and Joe Paolino helping Clinton raise money: Governor Raimondo will be on hand at their next Hillary 2016 Rhode Island finance meeting Thursday morning in Providence.

11. David Cicilline’s staff was feeling pretty good Friday after a notably successful week of legislating for a minority House member. To start with, Cicilline saw one of his bills clear the House and Senate for the first time – the measure that will rename a city post office after the late Sister Ann Keefe. Then he got two amendments added to the National Defense Authorization Act that passed Friday. The first was his so-called “Brickle amendment,” named for Brickle Group Chairman Sam Brickle, requiring the federal government to document whether American manufacturers get the chance to produce equipment for the Afghan National Security Forces. The second requires a report on the impact of the U.S. arms embargo against Cyprus.

12. Congratulations to former Brendan Doherty campaign manager Ian Prior on his new gig as communications director for American Crossroads, the Karl Rove-backed GOP super PAC. Prior previously worked for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

13. Most Rhode Island lawmakers won’t release their campaign accounts’ bank statements.

14. Read Dan McGowan and Walt Buteau on the big business of heroin in Providence.

15. Via Charlie Bakst, some very good news – science says coffee is good for you!

16. One of the best things I’ve read about Deflategate – and I’ve read a lot – is this Dan Wentzel piece on Yahoo Sports. It takes a wider-lens view of how the League screwed things up, without falling into blind Patriots homerism. Worth a read.

17. A 1,000-foot water slide in downtown Providence? Let’s do it.

18. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – sports economist Victor Matheson; Johnson & Wales Center for Entrepreneurship’s John Robitaille. Watch Saturday at 10:30 p.m. or Sunday at 6 p.m. on myRITV (or Sunday at 6 a.m. on Fox). You can catch both shows back-to-back on your radio, too, Sunday nights at 6 on WPRO-AM 630 and WEAN-FM 99.7. See you back here next Saturday morning.

Ted Nesi ( tnesi@wpri.com ) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

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