McCoy Stadium needs at least $68M of renovations, study suggests

(Photo: WPRI)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – An outside study of McCoy Stadium’s future released Friday suggests the Pawtucket Red Sox ballpark needs $68 million in renovations, and casts doubt on whether putting big money into the aging facility would be a wise investment.

The 182-page report by Pendulum Studio II proposes two options for upgrading McCoy: a major renovation of the existing 75-year-old stadium structure, at an estimated cost of $68 million; or demolishing the current stadium and building a new one on the same site, at an estimated cost of $78 million, which doesn’t include the additional cost of a new parking garage the study proposes.

The study’s authors suggested neither option is likely to pay major dividends for Rhode Island taxpayers, who are likely to be asked to foot a significant chunk of the bill for any changes at publicly-owned McCoy. Two of the biggest drawbacks with the current stadium are its distance from downtown Pawtucket and its limited entertainment options, they said.

Holy Cross Economics Professor Victor Matheson agrees, saying “the economic benefits from building a new stadium are much, much smaller than any possible costs.”

“[I]t is highly unlikely that a typical goal of a public investment of this nature – to generate a significant return on that investment driven by ancillary development around a new stadium – will ever be realized at this site,” concluded analysts from Brailsford & Dunlavey, which did an economic analysis for the study.

The study’s authors estimated it would cost roughly $35 million just to do the basic maintenance needed to keep McCoy viable for the next 20 years, notably to avoid further damage from water infiltration. Still, they acknowledged some Rhode Islanders have “a strong historic and emotional tie” to McCoy and its future “should not be taken lightly.”

The $105,000 study was jointly commissioned by the PawSox, the state and the city of Pawtucket after the team’s new owners abandoned an unpopular bid to build a stadium in downtown Providence. The price tag to refurbish McCoy is close to the $65 million figure reached in a study the owners commissioned but refused to release in 2015.

State and city officials were noncommittal about the study’s findings.

“We will be reviewing the extensive data in this report and look forward to engaging the Pawtucket Red Sox and the city of Pawtucket in discussions about the future of the site,” Brenna McCabe, a spokeswoman for the Raimondo administration, said in a statement. “The state recognizes the long, cherished history of this iconic stadium and understands its value to Rhode Islanders in and outside the city of Pawtucket.”

“Our highest priority moving forward is determining what’s best for the taxpayers and Rhode Island,” McCabe said.

Added Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien: “I look forward to diving into the details of the report and how it fits into the long-term vision for the city and the state. I am committed to maintaining the affordable family-friendly brand of PawSox baseball in Pawtucket.”

A PawSox spokesman released a statement Friday morning saying, “Like our partners in this undertaking, we are now digesting the full report and the significant numbers attached to the different options. The PawSox will have no further comment at this time. We look forward to continuing to work cooperatively with the City of Pawtucket and the State of Rhode Island to find a long term solution to keep the PawSox in Pawtucket.”

Governor Gina Raimondo praised Grebien Friday morning in a meeting with reporters, saying she was happy with the way the city had taken the lead. She also indicated she was open to a public subsidy for the stadium, but that it was too early in the process for any details. She wanted to hear from the city and the team regarding what each was able to invest, and see what, if any, shortfall was left.

The study’s release comes just a week after the owners of the iconic Apex department store site along I-95 confirmed their property is being looked at as a potential location for a new PawSox stadium. The team’s current lease at McCoy runs until 2021, but attendance at games has plummeted over the last decade.

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