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Soccer stadium part of $400M redevelopment plan for Pawtucket

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PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) – City and state leaders on Monday unveiled a $400 million redevelopment plan for downtown Pawtucket, including a professional soccer stadium and a promise it will pay for itself.

The proposed mixed-use complex, dubbed “Tidewater Landing,” would become the largest development project in Pawtucket history, and focus on three sites along the waterfront downtown.

The development includes the construction of a new 7,500-seat stadium at the location of a former National Grid gas plant, known as the Tidewater site, which would be home to a United Soccer League Championship team starting in 2022. The organization is the largest minor-league affiliate of Major League Soccer, the professional league that includes the New England Revolution.

The governor’s office said Tidewater Landing is also slated to include “a new indoor sports complex, market-rate and workforce housing, a hotel, and commercial office space.” Infrastructure upgrades will include a new pedestrian bridge and a riverwalk part that would connect downtown to the riverfront.

McCoy Stadium, which will be left empty when the Pawtucket Red Sox move to Worcester after next season, is not part of the plan. But Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien said discussions to rehabilitate the minor-league baseball stadium are ongoing.

Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo lauded the new development during a press conference Monday.

“This economic development project will establish a professional soccer team from a leading national league here in Rhode Island, revitalize the waterfront and downtown and create more than 3,500 jobs,” Raimondo said in a statement. “Most importantly, it will transform this area into a vibrant hub of activity like we haven’t seen in decades.”

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The proposed development comes out of a new public-private partnership between the city, the state and Fortuitous Partners, a New York-based company focused on developing in cities with special tax deals. The firm has specialized in the use of Opportunity Zones, a new tax break created by President Trump and the GOP Congress in the 2017 tax law, which is part of the new Pawtucket project.

Fortuitous is led by Brett Johnson, a Brown University graduate who founded a professional soccer team in Arizona, the Phoenix Rising Football Club. The company now has four months to finalize the details of the development, which does not require legislative approval.

“The initiative will transform the area by maximizing Pawtucket’s many assets to create a vibrant live, work, and play environment,” Johnson said in a statement. “The proposed private investment of over $300 million will boost the economy of the Blackstone Valley, create jobs, and transform the entire community.”

The General Assembly already approved a new Pawtucket Tax Increment Financing (TIF) program, which authorizes the state to borrow money for the project and then pay back the funds using tax revenue — such as sales taxes and hotel taxes — generated from the new economic activity.

“This project will pay for itself,” declared R.I. Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor, who has headed the state’s negotiations with Fortuitous.

Pryor estimates city and state taxpayers will contribute between $70 million and $90 million to the projected $400 million in development costs for Tidewater Landing to fund infrastructure upgrades. The development will also bring in seven times as much private investment as the proposal made by the PawSox ownership, Pryor added. The baseball deal fell apart last year.

#LIVE – Gov. Raimondo, Mayor Grebien announce $400 million redevelopment plan for Pawtucket.

Posted by WPRI 12 on Monday, December 2, 2019

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, who closely scrutinized the PawSox deal that would have cost taxpayers about $44 million to build a $83 million baseball stadium, spoke favorably about the newly proposed development.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “We have a strong soccer community. Who would have known?”

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio likewise lauded the development.

“This is a transformative project and it will benefit our state immensely,” Ruggerio said.

The public sector’s total financial commitment will be determined over the next 120 days. The governor’s office said the state will only make payments when portions of the project are completed.

Grebien argued Tidewater Landing will help revitalize the city’s downtown and waterfront, areas where new development is scant.

“It truly is about the vision that the city has had for years, even before my time,” he said, linking it to the Pawtucket-Central Falls MBTA train station that is also currently in development.

The Apex site is part of the proposed development, but the city or state must first purchase the land, which has been a sticking point before. Grebien said officials are in positive discussions with the owners to buy the land.

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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