PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and leaders of the Pawtucket Red Sox are planning to meet soon to discuss the State House impasse over a proposed new ballpark, even as one of the city’s own elected representatives is urging the speaker to kill the deal.
Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien is working to schedule a meeting with Mattiello and the team, along with members of the Pawtucket House delegation, his spokeswoman Lauren Greene confirmed. Mattiello, D-Cranston, has emerged as a vocal skeptic about putting taxpayer money behind a new stadium, leaving the project in limbo in the House.
The meeting is expected to take place “some time in the coming weeks,” Greene said. “The Ball Park at Slater Mill is an important part of Pawtucket’s revitalization. The speaker and PawSox need to be committed to this public development. This meeting will provide everyone the opportunity to move this project forward.”
Mattiello’s spokesman also confirmed a meeting is in the works. A PawSox spokesman declined to comment.
The $83-million stadium proposal has the support of Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo and the Rhode Island Senate, which approved a ballpark bill last month. But Mattiello has said repeatedly he does not sense enough public support for the current plan to bring it up for a vote, declaring last month that the Senate legislation was “dead” in the House even before a hearing. Meanwhile, PawSox officials have been talking with Worcester officials about a potential move there.
Yet Pawtucket’s own city leaders themselves are no longer presenting a united front on whether the stadium is a good idea. State Rep. David Coughlin, a Pawtucket Democrat loyal to Mattiello, published a Providence Journal op-ed on Tuesday night condemning the entire project – a striking break with Grebien and other members of the city’s delegation.
Accusing ballpark backers of engaging in “hurrahs, huzzahs, balderdash and gobbledygook,” Coughlin wrote: “The PawSox are first and foremost a for-profit business. The Pawtucket Red Sox should build their own stadium to replace the publicly owned McCoy and take all of the risks.”
Mayor Grebien pushed back in an interview Wednesday, saying he was “disappointed” in Coughlin’s attempt to derail the stadium project.
“He’s really taken what is good public policy, and turned it into his own political stuff,” Grebien said. “This is a public asset, this is a public amenity.”
Coughlin was the only member of Pawtucket’s all-Democratic House delegation who did not sign onto a statement last month urging their colleagues to move forward on the ballpark.
Grebien argues the team is taking on plenty of risk, especially in the Senate-tweaked version that requires more of the team’s owners and provides more revenue for the city of Pawtucket. He’s asking House leadership to allow a floor vote on the project.
“This is economic development,” Grebien said. “An opportunity for the city of Pawtucket. If they do not give us that opportunity for that economic development, Pawtucket is going to be hurt.”