Raimondo voices support for revised PawSox plan, supports fall session

Renderings show development ideas for two potential PawSox stadium sites: At left, the Apex site; at right, the Tidewater site.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Gov. Gina Raimondo said Monday she now supports a proposal to have the state help finance construction of a new PawSox stadium in downtown Pawtucket.

“I urge the Assembly to take it up, give it some hearings and give it a full and fair vetting,” Raimondo told reporters.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman William Conley, who represents Pawtucket and East Providence, plans to introduce a reworked PawSox stadium bill on Tuesday.

Conley said the bill is not likely to be considered before the end of the current legislative session, which is anticipated to wind down this week.

“The bill is being submitted to ensure that the proposed terms become part of the public record for all to see and scrutinize accordingly in the weeks and months ahead,” Conley said in a statement.

Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien and the PawSox unveiled a proposal last month for a taxpayer-backed $83-million ballpark on the site of the Apex building. The proposal for the downtown stadium also includes an ancillary development featuring shops, apartments and a hotel.

But House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said he wouldn’t take up the plan unless Raimondo endorsed it, and initially she cited concerns about state guarantees for Pawtucket’s share of the stadium debt in withholding her support.

“[The mayor] has addressed those concerns and gotten this to a place that I will be able to support it as a good deal for Pawtucket and a good deal for the taxpayers of Rhode Island,” Raimondo said Monday.

The language of the bill has been tweaked to ensure the state won’t be on the hook if the city of Pawtucket defaults on their portion of the loan, she said.

“It was essential that the city backstop its own contribution and they have in fact done so,” explained Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor.

“At the end of the day I don’t think this will cost the taxpayers of Rhode Island anything,” Raimondo said, alluding to forecasts suggesting that tax revenue generated by the stadium will cover the debt payments. “And I do think it will create hundreds of jobs in Pawtucket.”

The governor said she hopes lawmakers will return for a fall session; a spokesman for Mattiello said the speaker was not immediately able to say whether lawmakers would return to debate the issue. Senate President Dominick Ruggerio has previously said he’s open to a fall session, and Conley again indicated Tuesday that it’s a possibility.

In a statement, Grebien thanked Raimondo and other state leaders for their work on the ballpark and expressed hope that the proposal will come together. “I am gratified that we are finally moving forward together to have this proposal heard and vetted at the statewide level,” he said.

“The proposal preserves the affordable family-friendly asset for families and the $2 million in annual revenue to the state for the next thirty years,” the mayor said. “Additionally, and just as important, this project will spur economic development in downtown Pawtucket and throughout the Blackstone Valley for years to come.”

But House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, R-West Warwick, quickly criticized the revised proposal. Writing on Twitter, Morgan called the stadium plan “a slap in the face” to taxpayers and “not a good use” of state funds, arguing Raimondo should be “ashamed” for supporting it.