Blackstone Valley, Local News, News, Providence, Top Video

Senate Finance Chairman: No PawSox deal without team financials

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The chairman of the committee vetting an $83-million deal for a new Pawtucket Red Sox stadium says the process won’t move forward unless the team’s owners hand over profit and revenue information.

“Discussions are ongoing,” Democratic Senate Finance Chairman William Conley, who represents Pawtucket and East Providence, said in a statement Thursday. “However, the committee will not move forward without this necessary information.”

The pronouncement comes after the team refused to disclose profit and loss information in a written response to questions from the Senate Finance Committee earlier this week.

“The Team has endeavored to provide the Committee with as much financial information [as] possible without disclosing sensitive proprietary information,” team officials wrote.

A spokesperson for the PawSox declined to comment Thursday.

“I think it’s very reasonable for the legislature to ask for that,” Gov. Gina Raimondo told Eyewitness News Thursday night, adding: “I do think it can be confidential.”

Raimondo said she continues to support the stadium deal, which proposes using $71 million worth of government bonds to be paid back with money from the team, the state and the city of Pawtucket. The deal hinges on an expectation that tax revenue generated by the stadium and ancillary development will more than cover taxpayers’ contributions.

“They’re asking for taxpayer money, and I think it’s only fair that we would be able to see the revenue and profit of the PawSox,” Raimondo said.

She added she would be disappointed if the deal fell through.

In his statement, Conley also said the R.I. Commerce Corporation, an arm of the Raimondo administration, failed to follow “protocol” when making the deal with the PawSox.

“Normally, the Commerce Corporation conducts a financial review and assessment of a company’s viability prior to moving forward with an agreement,” Conley said.

Raimondo said the Commerce Corporation did an “excellent job” in negotiating the deal and said she wants the full vetting process to continue in the legislature.

“I think the PawSox belong in Pawtucket,” she said.

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Local News, News, Providence, Top Video

Councilman wants to lure PawSox to East Providence waterfront

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A city councilman is pitching an idea to bring the Pawtucket Red Sox to East Providence.

Democrat councilman Joseph Botelho, who represents Ward 3, is proposing the team build a new stadium on vacant land off of Veterans Memorial Parkway on the water. The swath of land adjacent to the East Bay Bike Path is owned by G&W Railroad, a company out of Connecticut, and features a view of the Providence skyline.

“Can you imagine sitting in a ballpark watching that sun fade over the right field wall while you’re watching the beautiful baseball game?” Botelho said in an interview with Eyewitness News. “That’s something money can’t buy.”

Botelho’s proposal would have to jump a lot of hurdles; he has not contacted the PawSox about the idea because he wants to get the property owners on board first. Mark Hastings, an executive with G&W Railroad, told Eyewitness News on Friday night the company is looking at all possibilities for what to do with the land, and is not committed to any one idea yet.

The PawSox struck a deal with the city of Pawtucket earlier this year to build a new ballpark downtown, but stopped pledging monogamy to the city after July 1, the deadline by which the team’s owners wanted state financing to come through. With State House leaders currently focused on a budget standoff, it’s unlikely the $23 million in state funding would come this year. (The city of Pawtucket pledged to contribute $15 million and the team’s owners would contribute $45 million.)

With the plan in limbo, other cities like Worcester have reportedly been in talks with the PawSox to host the new stadium.

Councilman Botelho’s proposal would presumably face the same roadblock in the General Assembly as the Pawtucket plan if the pitch requires state financing, but Botelho said he’d like to find a way to structure a deal without any cash from the state. He believes the waterfront location would be worth more to the team.

“I think if they look at our location and the incentives we would offer them, it would be a wash. We wouldn’t have to offer them any cash,” he said.

A spokesperson for the PawSox did not immediately have a comment on the proposal.

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Blackstone Valley, Economy, Local News, News, PawSox, Politics, sports, Top Video

PawSox stadium legislation introduced, will be vetted this fall

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island leaders signaled Tuesday they plan to take up the proposal for a new, $83-million Pawtucket Red Sox stadium later this year, after Gov. Gina Raimondo announced her support for a revised version of the plan.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman William Conley introduced the revamped bill on Tuesday, and said his committee will consider it this fall. The Senate is not yet committed to holding a special session to vote on the legislation, spokesman Greg Pare said.

“I think keeping the PawSox in Pawtucket and in the state of Rhode Island is really important to our future,” Conley told reporters at a briefing about the bill Tuesday afternoon. He emphasized that the legislation will “absolutely, positively not” be voted on in the few days left before lawmakers adjourn their regular session.

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said a companion bill will be introduced in his chamber by members of the Pawtucket delegation, and he said it “will be fully reviewed by the House Finance Committee this fall.” But he also stopped short of committing to a special session this fall to vote on the plan.

Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor, who helped negotiate the PawSox deal on behalf of the Raimondo administration, sent a letter Tuesday outlining his reasons for supporting Conley’s legislation. “This plan offers a responsible way to keep the ‘Paw’ in the PawSox,” he wrote.

“As we conduct our work in Commerce, we aim to achieve two objectives: to promote economic prosperity and to protect taxpayers,” Pryor wrote. “The proposal for a Ballpark at Slater Mill would accomplish both objectives.”

The new bill maintains the same financing split as the original plan.

State taxpayers would contribute $23 million to a new publicly-owned ballpark in downtown Pawtucket, 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, with $33 million of the team’s portion paid through a 30-year lease agreement.

Crucially, the new legislation spells out that Pawtucket is backstopping its own bonds by pledging its state aid – language that Raimondo said gave her the confidence to support the bill. The team has committed to covering any cost overruns.

The plan to build a new stadium at the Apex site in downtown Pawtucket was on life support earlier this month after the General Assembly gave it a lukewarm reception and Raimondo said she could not support it because it left state taxpayers on the hook for Pawtucket’s debt.

The new bill explicitly says Pawtucket will guarantee the bonds that the city floats to pay for its portion of the stadium. The Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency (PRA), a quasi-public body, will float the 30-year bonds for both the city and state portion of the stadium debt.

A second bill submitted Tuesday authorizes the PRA to issue the bonds by expanding the power of all the state’s municipal redevelopment agencies “to finance the construction of projects for residential, recreational, commercial, industrial, institutional, public, or other purposes contemplated by a redevelopment plan,” according to a summary.

Under the plan, both the city and state expect to pay back the bonds using sales and property tax revenue generated from the PawSox, visitors to the ballpark and other development expected to crop up around the new downtown site.

The bill also says the state would receive funds from a special ticket surcharge, but Conley said the price of the surcharge has not yet been determined.

The PawSox issued a statement Tuesday evening thanking the governor and her team for supporting the proposal and referencing a “final resolution” in the fall. “While there are no guarantees of successful adoption of the legislation, we are well aware of the importance of this milestone,” the statement said.

Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien previously said team executives were only committing to negotiate with Rhode Island until July 1, and after that would consider moving the club elsewhere. A spokesman for the team said they would not be taking questions beyond the statement.

“All I can say to the PawSox is there’s not a better place in the universe than Pawtucket, Rhode Island, for them,” Conley said. “And for them to go anywhere else would be foolish.”

Raimondo threw her weight behind the legislation Monday – something Mattiello demanded in order for the House to even consider the proposal. “At the end of the day, I don’t think this is going to cost the taxpayers of Rhode Island anything,” she said.

Pryor agreed, saying he is confident the revenue from the ballpark would cover the state’s $23 million share of the project. “We expect it to exceed it, but we’re confident that it will cover it,” Pryor said.

“That’s a dream,” said Rep. Patricia Morgan, the Republican House Minority Leader. “We don’t have this money. I’ll tell you who does: the owners of the PawSox.”

Morgan sits on the House Finance Committee that will consider the bill in the fall. She said she doesn’t want taxpayer dollars funding the stadium, even if that means the team decides to leave the state for a sweeter deal.

“That would be unfortunate, because they do have a loyal base here,” she said. “But it is a private company. They have to look out for themselves and we have to look out for ourselves.”

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Blackstone Valley, Local News, News, PawSox, Top Video

PawSox to request $23M from state for new stadium at Apex site

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PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) – The Pawtucket Red Sox are planning to ask state taxpayers for $23 million to help pay for a proposed ballpark in downtown Pawtucket that would keep the team in the city until at least 2050, the team announced Tuesday afternoon.

According to a summary released by the PawSox, the team’s owners would pay $45 million towards the $83 million cost of the new publicly owned stadium at the site of the Apex building downtown. The state would kick in $23 million, and the city of Pawtucket would contribute the remaining $15 million. The stadium would be called the “Ballpark at Slater Mill.”

The total cost of the stadium would be $73 million, with the land costing an additional $10 million, according to the PawSox. The new plan comes two years after the team abandoned a widely criticized request for $120 million from taxpayers to build a new stadium in downtown Providence.

The proposal would need to be approved by the General Assembly and Gov. Gina Raimondo in order for state funding to be secured. The team says the state’s $23 million investment would be repaid over approximately 30 years using revenue generated from the ballpark, including sales, property and hotel tax receipts. The Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency would float bonds to cover the taxpayer share, and the state would pay back the bonds for its portion over 30 years.

“The tax revenues that will be generated by the ballpark, by the people who use the ballpark, by the visitors who come to the ballpark, will be more than sufficient to cover any debt service,” PawSox chairman Larry Lucchino said.

The PawSox would also pay for any construction overrun costs.

In a unique twist, the PawSox also said that team owners “who live or who own separate businesses in Rhode Island will voluntarily donate annual PawSox distributions or dividends, if any, over the next five years to three Rhode Island charities: the Pawtucket Foundation, the Rhode Island Foundation, and/or the PawSox Foundation.” Paul Salem, a Providence Equity Partners executive who recently purchased a stake in the team, was credited with the idea.

Raimondo expressed optimism about the proposal Tuesday, after previously indicating she wanted the plan to be “revenue-neutral” for the state. She said the plan put forward by the team “appears to pay for itself.”

“I believe it merits a full public vetting as part of the legislative process,” Raimondo said. She also called the proposal “much better” than the Providence proposal she had rejected.

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio described himself as “hopeful” after the announcement. “Their new proposal will be thoroughly analyzed and reviewed, and the public will have the opportunity to make their voices heard, as part of the legislative hearing process in the Senate in the upcoming weeks,” he said.

A spokesperson for House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello – who was a strong supporter of the abandoned Providence stadium proposal – said the speaker is waiting on a recommendation from the governor before taking a position.

Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien said there is no backup plan if the General Assembly doesn’t pass the plan this legislative session.

“We’re confident this is going to pass,” Grebien said. “There’s no reason it shouldn’t pass.”

Rhode Island Republican Party Chairman Brandon Bell quickly slammed the plan, saying in a statement, “This proposal is simply a bad idea. Rhode Island taxpayers cannot afford to subsidize a new ballpark.”

Noting the state’s budget picture has weakened in recent months, Bell said: “Does Mattiello and Raimondo really want to explain to the voters how they postponed car tax relief and pushed for cuts to social services while giving millionaires $38 million to build a new ballpark?!”

Also quickly coming out in opposition to the proposal was Stop the Stadium Deal, a grass-roots group. “Revenue-neutral is basically a lie,” Ethan Gyles, one of the group’s board members, said. “For years stadium consultants have sold terrible deals by pretending that magic revenue would pay for them. Time and time again, cities have gotten burned.”

Official said plans for the stadium could also include a hotel, apartments and retail space as part of a larger redevelopment of downtown Pawtucket.

“It will be more than a ballpark,” PawSox Chairman Larry Lucchino said. “It will be a city park, open year-round. It could have football in the autumn, hockey in the winter, concerts in the summer, and joggers every day when the team is out of town.”

Lucchino said private developers are working on plans for the hotel and apartments, but the goal is to get the ball rolling on the stadium construction as soon as possible.

After the Providence stadium plan fell through, the team debated whether to build a new stadium or remain at Pawtucket-owned McCoy Stadium, which is in need of significant renovations. An economic impact study released last week indicated the Apex site would be a better investment compared to another site, dubbed “Tidewater,” on the river.

The five parcels of Apex land are currently owned by Andrew Gates.

Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist at Smith College who advised Mattiello on the stadium deal in 2015, argued the key for any transaction is making sure it’s truly revenue-neutral for taxpayers, by ensuring that the underlying forecasts for how much tax revenue the ballpark will generate are on target.

“On the surface, this looks like a good deal,” Zimbalist said. “If you can just get revenue neutrality, and you get the PawSox on top of that and you get the additional activity that’s generated around the stadium, it’s a plus for the community in social and cultural terms,” he said.

Asked how this stadium proposal looks compared with others he’s reviewed, Zimbalist said, “The appropriate comparison is to AAA ballparks elsewhere, and this level of [financial] contribution from the team is above what’s typical.”

Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien, who has pushed hard to keep the team in Pawtucket, celebrated the announcement and called it a “new chapter in our city’s history.”

“Virtually everything about this proposal is the opposite of where we were two years ago,” Grebien said in a statement. “Now, we are on the verge of completing one of the greatest comebacks in baseball history.”

The team says it hopes to be playing baseball in the new stadium in 2020. As part of the deal, the team would commit to remaining at the ballpark until at least 2050, with a 30-year lease extension possible.

“Just as Ben Mondor saved the day 40 years ago, this plan saves the day for the next 30 years,” said PawSox Vice-Chairman Mike Tamburro, a longtime team executive, referring to the late Pawtucket industrial who saved the team in the 1970s.