Mattiello to PawSox owners: ‘Convince the public’ to back new stadium

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – If the owners of the Pawtucket Red Sox want to get their proposed new $83-million ballpark, they might want to start lobbying House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s barber.

Mattiello, D-Cranston, told reporters Tuesday at the State House that he remains noncommittal about the stadium plan largely because he senses public opinion is generally opposed to spending public money on the project.

Asked how he makes that judgment, Mattiello cited conversations at diners, in supermarkets – and at City Hall Barber Shop on Park Avenue in Cranston, where he gets his hair cut.

“It’s pretty easy to get a sense of where people are,” he said.

Mattiello made his comments shortly after he gaveled in the first day of the 2018 General Assembly session. The PawSox proposal is high on the legislative agenda, with Senate President Dominick Ruggerio expected to push a revised stadium bill through his chamber this month, starting with a committee vote Thursday.

It’s clear, however, that winning over the House will be a tougher sell for the team.

Mattiello – who only narrowly won re-election in his conservative-leaning Cranston district in 2016 – has said repeatedly that most of the people he hears from are opposed to putting public money behind the stadium, and he reiterated that point Tuesday.

“I personally do not have a strong viewpoint on this issue,” Mattiello said. “I’m trying to reflect the will of the people, and I have sensed resistance with the public. But if that changes, then that would be something that we absolutely would consider.”

Asked how the team could get him on board, Mattiello said: “Very easy. Convince the public that the public wants to make the investment.”

“All of my colleagues are hearing the exact same things I am,” Mattiello said. “They’re hearing it across the state. Most folks love the PawSox, they want them to stay – they don’t want to invest public money.”

The new stadium would be built in downtown Pawtucket on the site of the Apex department store. The estimated $83-million cost would be split between the team ($45 million), the state ($23 million) and the city of Pawtucket ($15 million). Supporters have said tax revenue from the development will more than cover the debt payments.

Mattiello said any Senate-passed stadium bill will be referred to the House Finance Committee, which will then hold “open and transparent” hearings on the legislation. “In order to move forward after the hearings, we’ve got to have a sense that the public is transitioning into wanting to invest in the ballpark,” he said.

Mattiello said he’s had “no direct conversations” with Senate leaders about their revised PawSox plan, and has only read about their changes in media accounts.

Meanwhile, officials in Worcester are reportedly in continued talks with the PawSox about potentially having the team move there. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has signaled general support for the idea, though no numbers have been attached to the project there publicly so far.

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