PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A majority of Rhode Island voters oppose the state’s plan to steer $60 million in taxpayer money toward helping to build the new Pawtucket minor-league soccer stadium, an exclusive 12 News/Roger Williams University poll released Thursday shows.

The survey of 402 likely Rhode Island voters shows 56% of respondents oppose the plan compared to 31% who support the idea and 12% who aren’t sure.

The controversial financing plan — approve in July thanks to a tie-breaking vote by Democratic Gov. Dan McKee — has become a hot-button issue this election cycle.

Republican Ashley Kalus, the GOP nominee running against McKee, has sharply criticized the public financing plan, calling it a bad deal for Rhode Island. And most voters agree with her, according to the poll.

“There is no group that is in favor of it,” 12 News political analyst and pollster Joe Fleming said. “All of the groups are opposed to it at this time.”

The $60 million public subsidy for the project led by developer Fortuitous Partners has caused controversy in recent months, as documents show the stadium will generate only a fraction of the money needed to pay off the debt the state plans to float for it.

The financing plan also required R.I. Commerce Corp. to shift away millions of dollars previously allocated for housing development on the opposite side of the Seekonk River to help pay for the stadium — which had ballooned in cost compared to prior estimates.

Much to the chagrin of advocates amid an ongoing housing crisis, there is currently no plan to make up the lost funding for housing, although stadium advocates including McKee have indicated they will seek the money from the General Assembly next year. Supporters also argue the project will eventually pay for itself once future phases are developed.

According to the poll, the financing plan is especially unpopular among Republicans and independents, with 64% of respondents opposing the idea in both camps. About 46% of Democrats likewise oppose the financing plan — in light with the 44% of likely Democratic primary voters who opposed the plan in a 12 News/RWU poll released in August.

(Story continues below.)

Shortly after Commerce approved the $60 million financing package in July, Fortuitous and state leaders celebrated a groundbreaking ceremony at the Pawtucket development site dubbed Tidewater Landing. But behind the scenes, Commerce and Fortuitous continue to negotiate on a finalized agreement.

“Since the Commerce board voted to approve details of a potential incentive agreement, Commerce has been and remains in active negotiations with all involved parties to finalize that agreement,” Commerce spokesperson Chris Raia said in an email this week.

Fortuitous, meanwhile, is still negotiating project bids with its general contractors, and the state’s consultant, JLL, is involved in the overall process, according to Raia.

Pawtucket — which is on the hook to come up with $10 million of the $60 million package — has not come out publicly with any information about how it might pay for its share of the plan.

But Pawtucket’s law firm Locke Lord sent a letter to Commerce in July outlining some ideas for how the city might come up with the funds, including tapping into real and personal property taxes on the stadium and from other properties within a special tax district created surrounding the stadium.

Other ideas included pledging “other city economic activity taxes” tied to the special tax district, along with “other city revenues in order to offer sufficient debt service coverage to market the bonds.”

“The City reserves the right to use any other alternative funding sources at its disposal in order to fund its $10 million commitment in its sole discretion and based on the best interests of its taxpayers,” attorney Karen Grande wrote in the letter obtained through a public records request.

City officials and Locke Lord were slated to present in front of the Pawtucket City Council this week, but the meeting was canceled last minute after the council failed to form a quorum.

The stadium issue will likely continue to be debated in the weeks leading up to election day on Nov. 8, as the gubernatorial candidates are scheduled for a slate of forums and debates, including their first televised one scheduled for 8 p.m. Tuesday on 12 News.

Fleming said the lackluster support among voters for the stadium could hurt McKee at the ballot box, as the governor took such a strong position in favor of the project. But Fleming said other political issues could end up overshadowing the development controversy in the end.

“What is the one issue that is going to move the voters from one camp to the other?” Fleming said. “That we don’t know.”

The poll of likely voters shows McKee at 45% and Kalus at 32%, while 15% of those surveyed are still undecided. None of the three independent candidates on the ballot — Elijah Gizzarelli, Zachary Hurwitz and Paul Rianna — top 3%.

The cellphone and landline interview poll was conducted Sept. 29 through Oct. 2 by Fleming & Associates of Cumberland, R.I. The survey has an overall margin of sampling error of plus or minus approximately 4.9 percentage points. Fleming has been conducting polls for 12 News since 1984.

Eli Sherman ( is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Tim White and Ted Nesi contributed to this report.