PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A new poll commissioned by a union group that supports the PawSox stadium proposal has good news and bad news for ballpark backers.
The bad news for them: the survey of 425 registered Rhode Island voters found 53% oppose using taxpayer money to build a new stadium for the minor-league team, as PawSox executives and some elected officials want.
The good news for them: 56% of voters said they would support the stadium if taxpayers’ share is covered with revenue generated by the stadium, and 58% said they would support the stadium if the alternative is losing roughly $2 million in annual tax revenue generated by the team’s current home, McCoy Stadium.
Supporters insist the $83-million new ballpark, which would be partly funded with $38 million in state and city borrowing, would generate enough tax revenue to cover the bond payments. But opponents say that outcome is not guaranteed, and argue the same revenue might be generated through other activity if the team left.
The survey was conducted Feb. 5 to 8 by Fleming & Associates of Cumberland on behalf of BuildRI, a trade group for union construction firms and workers. It carries a margin of error of plus or minus 4.75 percentage points. (Fleming & Associates has also conducted polls for Eyewitness News since the 1980s.)
A poll commissioned last April by the PawSox, also conducted by Fleming, showed even greater opposition to using taxpayer money for a ballpark, at 63%. However, support for the stadium if it pays for itself is also lower in this poll than in that earlier survey, when it was 68%.
A third survey, conducted last fall by veteran pollster John Della Volpe for the website GoLocalProv, found 67% of voters said they would vote against issuing moral-obligation bonds to build the PawSox stadium if there was a referendum on the question.
At a news conference where the poll results were released, BuildRI Vice-Chairman Michael Sabitoni called on House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello to allow a vote on the ballpark in his chamber. Mattiello has been resistant to the proposal, and has repeatedly said he will only be swayed if he senses a shift in public opinion.
“It would be a real shame years from now to continue to drive around the Apex site and think about what could have been, so with some vision and courage we can change the dynamic around,” Sabitoni said.
Mattiello, D-Cranston, said in an email the poll results “are not surprising to me.”
“When given a neutral question (Question 7), only 40% of Rhode Islanders agree with the proposal,” he said. “Those numbers rise only when prompted with assumptions that are speculative at best and are presented in the most favorable light to the proponents of the proposal.”
R.I. Republican Party Chairman Brandon Bell argued that including the possibility the stadium will pay for itself created “a bogus and slanted question” that wasn’t reliable. “Everyone wants the PawSox to stay, but you can’t say ‘if they build it, they will come,'” Bell said.
Despite the divisions over financing a new stadium, the BuildRI poll showed generally strong support for keeping the PawSox in Rhode Island: 71% of voters it was important that the team remains in the state; 75% said the state, city and team should work together toward that goal; and 62% said they would support continuing to operate a ballpark as a public-private partnership along the lines of McCoy.Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook