Letter: Brown U. seeks $15M from PawSox for stadium land

University suggests stadium negotiations are over without richer offer from team

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) – Brown University’s leaders want $15 million from the new owners of the Pawtucket Red Sox in exchange for land the team needs to build its proposed riverfront stadium, according to a private letter obtained by WPRI.com.

In a letter dated Sept. 1, Russell Carey, Brown’s executive vice president for planning and policy, formally rejected an offer he said the team had made the prior day, saying the terms offered would not “make Brown whole with regard to land acquisition for the 0.88 acres, building improvements, and department relocation costs.”

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

Carey said an offer made by the PawSox for a long-term lease of the Dyer Street site “equates to approximately one-fourth of the $15 million value we indicated would be required for Brown to relinquish control,” which indicates the team offered Brown roughly $3.75 million.

“An acceptable lease rate for Brown based upon this investment would be $1.05M per year,” Carey wrote. “We do not envision a scenario where we would sell or lease the land being sought without being made whole.”

Carey added: “Given how far apart we are with regard to value we do not believe that continuing discussions is a beneficial use of our collective time.” He said Brown would still be willing to review “a revised proposal” from the team that reflects the school’s demands.

A spokeswoman for Brown, Cass Cliatt, confirmed the letter’s authenticity. “We’ve been communicating our position consistently to all parties since January,” she said in an email.

The stark language from Carey reinforces that Brown has become a major roadblock in the way of the Providence ballpark project, though it’s far from the only one – the team also has no deal with the state for public subsidies, no deal with the city for a property tax break, and no deal with the federal government to convert designated parkland into a stadium. PawSox spokeswoman Patti Doyle acknowledged this week the team needs to reassess the viability of the project.

“We continue to believe in the proposed site for a new ballpark and will continue to focus the majority of our efforts on a renegotiated state agreement,” Doyle told WPRI.com on Friday.

In the letter, Carey disclosed that the PawSox owners’ latest proposal to Brown – which has not been made public – encompasses “two options involving a multi-party purchase of the land involving some combination of the State of Rhode Island, PBC Associates and an unnamed developer.” PBC Associates is the corporate entity the new owners created to buy the PawSox earlier this year.

Carey said Brown “would not dedicate time and resources” to assisting in putting together such a deal because of the stadium project’s “low strategic importance to Brown,” though the university would examine one if it were put together independently and met the school’s financial requirements.

Carey addressed his letter to three of the 10 PawSox co-owners – former Fleet CEO Terry Murray, Nautic Partners managing director Habib Gorgi and attorney James Skeffington Jr., son of the late PawSox President Jim Skeffington – as well as PBC Associates.

Murray and Gorgi both have ties to Brown. Murray’s daughter, Paula McNamara, is a Brown graduate who now serves on the school’s board of trustees, and the school renamed its baseball field Murray Stadium in 2007 to recognize a “generous” gift from Terry Murray and his wife. Gorgi is also a Brown graduate and the parent of a current Brown student.

Money wasn’t the only problem for Brown that Carey outlined in the Sept. 1 letter. He also once again shrugged off Jim Skeffington’s repeated suggestions earlier this year that Brown would find the stadium to be a significant asset it could use for a variety of university activities.

“As we have previously stated,” Carey wrote, “playing football and/or other University activities in the proposed stadium has no strategic importance nor financial value to the University.”

Carey also said the Aug. 31 offer from the PawSox failed to address Brown’s concerns about the schedule for the project.

Once Carey’s Sept. 1 letter emerged, Brown released a previous letter Carrey sent to PawSox Chairman Larry Lucchino on Aug. 8. The earlier letter outlined the school’s position in the stadium talks and made many of the same points reiterated in the new letter sent this week.

Among other things, Carey indicated in the earlier letter that Brown was first approached about the stadium project last December – two months before the team’s sale was announced.

Brown first received a written proposal for 200 Dyer St. from the team on Aug. 4 in the form of a draft term sheet, according to Carey. The proposal was “far short” of what Brown would need and “is not acceptable to Brown in its current form,” Carey wrote Aug. 8.

Brown spent $6.1 million to buy 200 Dyer St. in March 2011 and has invested an additional $7.5 million in the building there over the subsequent years, putting its total investment in the property at roughly $13.6 million, according to Carey.

While Brown leaders “have been and remain enthusiastic about the prospect of helping to activate a new, multi-use stadium,” Carey wrote, doing so is not “a strategic priority” for the school. Moving its football team there is “appealing” but also not a priority, and would not necessarily allow the school to abandon its existing football field on the East Side because that facility is also used for its track and field program.

“Further, the assumptions made in the draft term sheet about potential revenue and expenses of Brown football games are very far from current realities,” Carey said. He said the PawSox estimated Brown could generate an average of $145,000 in ticket sales for a home football game, but currently the school only generates $25,000.

In the Aug. 8 letter, Carey floated the possibility the stadium proposal could be changed to reduce the amount of Brown land the team needs and make “the path forward less complicated.”

“We have asked if the size of the stadium could be reduced (for example, by eliminating its capacity to host football games and/or by eliminating the wiffle ball field) and have been told the answer is no,” he wrote.

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

Comments are closed.