Mattiello backs revised PawSox stadium plan

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said Tuesday he will support a revised bill for a new Pawtucket Red Sox stadium, a major change of heart that could clear the way for the minor-league ballpark.

Speaking to reporters after a closed-door caucus of House Democrats, Mattiello said House leaders expect to unveil an amended version of the Senate’s ballpark bill on Thursday. He indicated the revised legislation will remove any state backstop behind the Pawtucket Redevelopment Authority’s borrowing for the project.

“If we can keep the PawSox with zero risk to the taxpayers, I think that’s a successful outcome,” he said. 

The $83-million stadium would be built on the current site of the Apex store in Pawtucket, funded with $45 million from the team and a combined $38 million from state and city taxpayers.

“This concept still needs to be put through its paces starting with a House Finance Committee hearing,” Mattiello said. “There will be plenty of opportunities for feedback.” 

A spokesman for the PawSox told Eyewitness News the team’s ownership group was “somewhat surprised by this new development.”

“While we were shown a draft over this holiday weekend, we have yet to see the legislation posted today,” said spokesman Bill Wanless in a statement. “We will study the proposed legislation in detail when we receive it, to assess the viability and appeal of what we believe is a whole new departure.”

Although Mattiello was a strong supporter of the new PawSox ownership group’s original plan for a stadium in Providence back in 2015, he has since been the most resistant among top Rhode Island leaders to the idea of building a new ballpark in Pawtucket.

“I have been reluctant to move forward with prior versions of the deal because of the risk to the state’s taxpayers,” Mattiello said. “This alternative envisions segregating revenues generated in a new Tax Increment Financing District to ensure that revenues from the project will be directly tied to the debt payments, and the project will stand or fall on its own.”

Mattiello said the the debt will be more expensive without the state’s backing, but he thinks that’s a worthwhile trade-off.

“You can’t have it both ways, but the deal is still very viable with the increased borrowing costs,” he said.

Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien said he understands where the proposed changes are coming from and called the stadium plan a “great deal.”

“This is a critical opportunity that the state must capitalize on,” Grebien said in a statement. “Together, we can truly do something special for this state at no risk to the taxpayers. This remains a key component of Pawtucket’s future development and quality of life.”

Grebien said he looks forward to reviewing the legislation and working with the state. Mattiello said he believes the new proposal will have the support of Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, who’s been championing the legislation in the Senate, as well as Gov. Gina Raimondo and PawSox leaders.

A spokesman for Ruggerio said the Senate president had yet to see the amendment as of Tuesday evening.

Raimondo’s press secretary, Josh Block, said the governor has always been committed to keeping the minor league baseball team in Rhode Island. 

“The administration has consistently supported a deal that protects taxpayers and helps revitalize Pawtucket,” Block wrote in an email to Eyewitness News. “Governor Raimondo will continue working with legislative leaders and looks forward to seeing any amendments that result from the upcoming hearing.”

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