PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — A controversial project in Pawtucket is taking a major step forward.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held Friday morning for the Tidewater Landing Project, which will be home to Rhode Island’s new United Soccer League (USL) Championship club, housing, retail stores, and restaurants on the Pawtucket waterfront.

Officials say the stadium will be the flagship venue for sports and entertainment, hosting other sporting and community events and concerts beginning in 2024.

“A city is more than just brick and asphalt — it is defined by what it takes pride in. Today, we are giving Pawtucket a stadium it can be proud of,” Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos said. “Together, we have created a proposal that brings sports back to Pawtucket, builds housing, and protects taxpayers.”

However, the minor league soccer stadium will not pay for itself on its own, raising the stakes for future phases of a development project that has become shrouded in financial and political uncertainty.

Last month, Gov. Dan McKee gave the tie-breaking vote to approve an additional $27 million in state tax money for the project. The developer, Fortuitous Partners, said they needed more money due to inflation and supply chain issues, bringing the total cost of the project from $284 million to $344 million.

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The amended plan includes a number of stipulations to protect taxpayers, including prohibiting the city and state from covering any additional costs connected to the stadium itself. It also requires proof of permanent occupancy and a 30-year commitment from a minor league soccer team to play there.

“With strong taxpayer protections, this project is going to spur economic development and momentum in Pawtucket and across Rhode Island,” McKee said. “The Tidewater Project will not only create jobs in the Blackstone Valley but it will also create a new destination for Rhode Island. I’m proud that we’re breaking ground on the stadium today and our team stands ready to continue working with the developer and city to launch the next phase of this project.”

Pawtucket Mayor Don Grieben said in a statement last month that the site will be a gamechanger for economic development across the state.

“Pawtucket’s history has long been synonymous with innovation and jobs; now so will our present and future,” Grebien said. “We will be able to take 25 acres of our riverfront and bring it to life – to be a place and destination for our entire state to gather and enjoy the best of Rhode Island for generations to come.”

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Future phases of construction will include over 500 housing units with ground floor retail. The project will also include a $63 million Pawtucket/Central Falls Transit Center and commuter rail stop with service starting as soon as this year.

Additionally, there will be riverfront rails for easy access to the venue by rail, bike or foot.

State leaders say Rhode Island will begin USL play in 2024 and compete in the annual Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, which was first held in Pawtucket in 1914 in front of over 8,000 attendees at Coates Field. 

Whether the team — which doesn’t exist and hasn’t been named yet — will be able to fill the stadium has also become a point of some contention.

Eli Sherman contributed to this report.