PawSox express ‘concern’ about new stadium bill; 2020 opening off the table

PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) – The owners of the Pawtucket Red Sox said Monday they are still digesting a revised bill to provide public financing for a new ballpark, but indicated they are not yet ready to accept the changed terms.

The Senate Finance Committee last week released amended legislation that asks the team to make financial and other additional commitments in exchange for up to $44 million in taxpayer financing for the $83-million stadium. Senate Finance Chairman Bill Conley argued the changes provide more protections for taxpayers.

In a lengthy statement released Monday afternoon, the PawSox gave mixed signals about their next move, thanking legislators for their due diligence but avoiding any comment on the specifics of the new proposal.

“When the state seeks to initiate further discussions with us, these new suggestions and revisions will receive our prompt attention, but at first blush, some proposed revisions give us concern,” the team statement said.

“It will take some time to digest the proposed revisions they have introduced,” the statement said. “It is our hope that all partners and stakeholders understand the delicate balance achieved in the original agreement.”

In addition, the owners expressed regret that the new ballpark “can now no longer be ready by April 2020, which was a stated, important, and collective objective,” due to the time it is taking for lawmakers to come to a decision. The team’s current lease at McCoy Stadium runs through the 2020 baseball season.

The PawSox process is on hold for now, with Senate Finance not planning to vote on the bill until early next month. House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has said his chamber will not take up the proposal unless it clears the full Senate. Meanwhile, the PawSox are reportedly in active talks with Worcester about moving the team there, though officials in that city have yet to make public any details about what they’re prepared to offer.

Here is the full statement from the PawSox:

We respect the diligent work that the Senate Finance Committee has performed for the last several months. It conducted exhaustive and thorough hearings throughout Rhode Island which revealed overwhelming support for the pending legislation and for keeping the PawSox in Pawtucket. Members, staff, and the Auditor General on their behalf have also scrutinized our financial documents and situation and have come away with a recognition that we had nothing to hide from them.

It will take some time to digest the proposed revisions they have introduced. It is our hope that all partners and stakeholders understand the delicate balance achieved in the original agreement that followed months of negotiation in 2017 among the City of Pawtucket, the State of Rhode Island, and the Pawtucket Red Sox.

One consequence of this action, and of the processes of the General Assembly, is that Pawtucket’s new ballpark can now no longer be ready by April 2020, which was a stated, important, and collective objective.

We have lost that year, but we have not lost our hope that the House and Senate will exhibit the necessary leadership to allow the construction of a beautiful ballpark and a public “park at the park” to revitalize our Riverfront and serve as a catalyst of a resurgent Downtown Pawtucket for the Gateway City of the Ocean State.

When the state seeks to initiate further discussions with us, these new suggestions and revisions will receive our prompt attention, but at first blush, some proposed revisions give us concern.

We respect the committee’s role in seeking to ensure that the proposed financing plan protects the state, which it does, and the city, which it also does.

The state’s annual investment is exceeded by the annual tax revenue it receives, and the city’s investment gives it ownership of land, ownership of an innovative ballpark with year-round uses, and ownership of a new city park, all of which will spur additional new development, activity, and taxes for the city.

The PawSox, with the overwhelming majority contribution of $45 million, the commitment of 30 years, and the responsibility of ballpark construction cost overruns, are taking the most significant and likely risks to ensure that this once-in-a-generation project comes to fruition for Rhode Island.

We hope we can keep the PawSox in Pawtucket, and we have offered unprecedented private funds to do so. We hope we can be an integral part of a transformative Pawtucket Downtown and Riverfront Revitalization project. We recognize and respect that the decisions of whether to preserve this Rhode Island institution and to proceed with that revitalization project are in the hands of Rhode Island’s elected officials.

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 and Facebook