Brown U. won’t sell land for PawSox stadium without support from RI, city

Team needs to look at whether ballpark 'is still affordable,' spokeswoman confirms

An artist rendering of what the new PawSox owners' proposed downtown Providence ballpark would look like. (credit: DAIQ/Populous, via PawSox)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Pawtucket Red Sox suffered a new blow to their hopes of building a riverfront stadium in Providence on Thursday after Brown University said it won’t sell the prime downtown land the team needs without a clear show of support from local leaders and residents.

The current stadium proposal can’t move forward unless Brown agrees to give up the land at 200 Dyer St. that currently houses its School of Professional Studies and its admissions office, which opened just three years ago. The team needs that parcel, along with some of the former vacant I-195 land designated for a public park, to build the stadium.

“If the City, State and people of Rhode Island determine that a stadium is desirable, Brown will be supportive,” university spokeswoman Cass Cliatt said in a statement late Wednesday after declining a request for an interview with a Brown administrator.

Brown “would be willing to sell any of our land that is needed at a fair price that fully compensates Brown for its significant investment in the real estate and associated programmatic requirements” in the Dyer Street building, Cliatt continued.

“It is our responsibility to our community to ensure an equitable outcome for any transfer of the land,” she said.

The new statement from Brown suggests the university will be seeking millions of dollars from the PawSox in exchange for the land the team needs, which would add another unplanned cost to the total price of the stadium project.

It follows a similarly cost-raising statement from federal officials, who recently suggested that if the designated park space is used for a stadium instead, Rhode Island taxpayers would need to pay the federal government full market value for the old highway parcel.

Cliatt declined to say how much money Brown would want in exchange for giving up 200 Dyer St., but denied reports that the amount was $10 million. “The $10 million figure has not been part of any communication from Brown,” she told WPRI.com in an email, adding: “Much more is at issue than the sale of land.”

Cliatt also cast doubt on late PawSox President Jim Skeffington’s oft-repeated suggestion that Brown would be amenable to striking a favorable deal for the land because the university would be able to use the new stadium for football and other sports events.

“If the stadium is built, we do not see it as becoming a regular venue for Brown athletics or as providing tangible benefits for other campus life activities,” Cliatt said.

Brown’s tepid statement only adds to the long list of challenges PawSox Chairman Larry Lucchino faces as he tries to keep the team’s hopes for a new riverfront stadium alive. Patti Doyle, a spokeswoman for the PawSox, said the team received word from Brown about its position on Wednesday – though Cliatt argued that university officials have been “communicating our position consistently to all parties since January.”

“There’s no question it’s a significant development,” Doyle told WPRI.com. “I don’t want to sound like I’m any less optimistic than I was three days ago, but I think we need to be realistic and look at the project realistically right now, and its overall costs.”

Doyle added that it’s possible the project will prove too expensive to be feasible, though she said it’s too early to say so for sure.

“We’ve got to come with this new information and do a deeper assessment and see if this project is still affordable, and that’ll be part of the work we do in the days and weeks ahead,” she said.

Lucchino has been in negotiations with Raimondo administration officials for months now after the governor rejected the team’s first proposal, for $120 million in taxpayer subsidies as well as free land to build the stadium.

Marie Aberger, a spokesman for Gov. Gina Raimondo, declined to comment directly on Brown’s move Thursday.

“As the governor has been saying for weeks, there are many things that have to happen before a ballpark could move forward, including agreement from many stakeholders, approval from various regulators, and financial terms that are fair and that make sense for Rhode Islanders,” she said. “All of these various issues need further attention.”

The team also needs a deal with the city of Providence to get a long-term exemption from property taxes for the ballpark. Mayor Jorge Elorza said Wednesday his administration is in talks with the team but gave no indication about where the discussions stand.

“As a first principle, I believe the city shouldn’t be out of pocket for even one cent of the costs of building or operating the stadium,” Elorza told WPRI.com.

Elorza also said he encouraged the PawSox owners to scout other possible locations for the proposed stadium, namely the Victory Plating site located off Allens Avenue, which Lucchino visited last week.

“I think there are a lot of natural advantages to that lot over the 195 space,” the mayor said.

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has long been the leading State House cheerleader for the stadium project, but even he offered a downbeat assessment of the state of play Thursday, telling The Providence Journal the project “may never be ready to be addressed.”

“I don’t know if the ballpark is going to happen or not,” Mattiello said.

Doyle said the team needs more time to figure out its next steps.

“We just got this word from Brown,” she said. “We need to take this all in. We still don’t know what the city is asking.” Still, she emphasized that Lucchino and his co-owners remain focused on negotiating a new deal with state leaders.

Sam Bell, chair of the anti-ballpark advocacy group Stop the Stadium Deal, noted that his organization has been canvassing voters in Mattiello’s district to urge them to let him know if they oppose the proposal, and suggested that could be influencing the speaker’s thinking.

“First he backed off his push for a special session to ram the deal through, and now he’s saying he doesn’t know if the stadium deal will go through,” Bell said in an email. “It shows the power of grassroots activism to make politicians listen to the people.”

“This battle isn’t over yet, but we have enormous momentum behind us,” Bell said. “We’re going to keep the pressure up until Mattiello firmly announces he opposes this deal, and the ownership group admits defeat.”

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

Dan McGowan contributed to this report.

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