PawSox bill slated for RI road show

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A top state lawmaker wants to take the PawSox bill on tour.

Senate Finance Chairman William Conley, D-East Providence, said he plans to hold State House hearings vetting a bill that would authorize a new baseball stadium in Pawtucket, on the road.

“We are going to leave the confines of the State House,” Conley said during a taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers. “We are going to go out and hold Senate Finance hearings in different communities to make sure that everybody in the public who wants to be heard will have a full and fair opportunity to be heard.”

Conley – whose district also includes Pawtucket – said he hopes to begin the hearings “as early in the fall as possible.”

“We are committed to making this the most open, transparent and comprehensive review of a public financing program in the history of the state of Rhode Island,” he said. “This is actually an ideal process because it gives us the opportunity to do it in the fall, where there won’t be other distractions.”

Conley introduced the revamped bill earlier this month, which seeks to green-light the construction of the $83-million ballpark. The stadium would be built on the location of the old Apex site along I-95 in Pawtucket.

Aerial view of downtown development plan, with new ballpark at Apex location

The plan calls for state taxpayers to contribute $23 million to the publicly-owned ballpark, to be paid back with tax revenue from the stadium and a surcharge on ticket sales. The city of Pawtucket would contribute $15 million, and the PawSox would pay $45 million.

The new bill put more skin in the game for Pawtucket: the city would backstop its own bonds by pledging its non-education state aid.

Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien acknowledged that the state’s failed deal with Curt Schilling’s video game company has made getting public support for the stadium challenging.

“As much as we hate talking about it, the malaise of 38 Studios [and] ‘this is a bad deal,'” Grebien said. “This is a good, good deal for Pawtucket and the state of Rhode Island.”

Conley added, “we have to learn from our mistakes.”

“One of the things that we know is that for the people of the state of Rhode Island to have trust in what product finally comes out of this is that it has to be an accurate assessment, not a skewed assessment,” Conley said. “It has to be a comprehensive assessment of the structure and the financial underpinnings of it and we want to make sure that happens.”

Tim White ( twhite@wpri.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook

Ted Nesi contributed to this report