It’s official: PawSox commit to build stadium in Worcester

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PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — The owners of the Pawtucket Red Sox announced Friday they are planning to leave Rhode Island for Massachusetts, ending a years-long saga over whether the team would stay at McCoy stadium, build a new stadium in Rhode Island or leave the state.

In announcing the plan, the ball club’s owners rejected a plan to build a new stadium on the Apex site in downtown Pawtucket, dubbed “The Ballpark at Slater Mill.”

The teams plans to continue to play at McCoy Stadium for the next two years, moving to the yet-to-be-built Worcester stadium in 2021.

“We are eager to build an innovative, family-friendly ballpark that reflects the love and appreciation of baseball and that unifies Central Massachusetts and the Blackstone Valley Corridor,” said PawSox Chairman Larry Lucchino in a press release.

Information released by the team said the organization will be re-named the Worcester Red Sox, and the new stadium will be called Polar Park after Polar Seltzer, which is based in Worcester.

In a letter to Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien explaining the decision, Lucchino and vice-chairman Mike Tamburo called Grebien’s passion for the project and his city “heroic,” but blamed state officials for dragging their heels on approving a deal.

In the letter, Lucchino and Tamburo acknowledge recent progress in the negotiations, as recently as earlier this month.

“Had we reached this level of progress after reaching an agreement with you and the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation 15 months ago yesterday, I think we would be building a ballpark by now,” the letter said.

“The state’s delays cost Pawtucket dearly,” it added.

Lucchino publicly praised Grebien in the press release.

“I thank the Mayor of Pawtucket, Don Grebien, who is a wonderful partner, an honorable public servant, and an heroic champion of his city. ” Lucchino said.  

Grebien said Friday afternoon he found out about the team leaving through media reports.

“I know many of my neighbors in Pawtucket and throughout Rhode Island are struggling today with the sudden news of this treasured piece of the fabric of our community being ripped out of its rightful home,” Grebien said in a statement. “The PawSox do not make Pawtucket. Pawtucket made the PawSox.”
 
At a news conference in Worcester, Lucchino told a crowd he decided to take the team somewhere it was “wanted,” instead of a place where “there’s controversy and disagreement and opposition.”
 
The debate in Rhode Island has become contentious, as politicians and taxpayers were split on whether to shell out taxpayer money for the stadium. A financing deal worked out between Raimondo’s administration, the city of Pawtucket and the team’s owners was the subject of half a dozen public hearings around the state, and ultimately passed the Senate in January.
 
But the Senate plan was dead on arrival in the House, where Speaker Nicholas Mattiello opposed the plan as too risky for taxpayers. A revised version that passed the House in late June shifted the risk to investors. With just one day left in the legislative session, the Senate passed the House version and was later signed by Raimondo.
 
“I was sick to my stomach,” said Pawtucket State Sen. Donna Nesselbush of Friday’s news. “We don’t have true democracy in the General Assembly. We have more of an oligarchy, where it’s rule by the few.” 
 
She placed the blame squarely on the speaker’s shoulders.
 
“I blame one man, and I’m sorry to say and go on record as saying that I blame Nick Mattiello for the loss of the Pawtucket Red Sox,” Nesselbush told Eyewitness News.
 
In a statement, Mattiello defended the House proposal and said the team’s choice was “extremely disappointing.”
 

“The state’s proposal contained strong protections for the taxpayers and shifted the risk to the investors,” Mattiello said. “It was responsive to the concerns of the taxpayers who made it clear that they did not want to accept the risk contained within the original proposal.  It is disheartening the PawSox did not show the same loyalty to the City of Pawtucket and the State of Rhode Island as the taxpayers and fans have shown to them for many decades.”

The city of Worcester said the new stadium project would cost $86-90 million, with the city borrowing money and using revenue from lease payments, local property taxes, fees and parking from surrounding new development to pay off the bonds.

The state is also planning to contribute $35 million for a new parking garage and to support better transportation and infrastructure surrounding the stadium.

Plans are also in the works for apartments, hotels and restaurants near the stadium in Worcester’s Canal District. Similar ancillary development was proposed in the Pawtucket plan.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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