Moving forward: Grebien pledges to buy Apex site, redevelop Pawtucket without PawSox

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PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — Urging the people of Rhode Island to put the “ghost of 38 Studios” to rest, Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien spoke in optimistic tones Wednesday about the city’s future as many lament the loss of the Pawtucket Red Sox.

The news conference at Slater Mill was the first time Grebien has spoken publicly since Friday’s announcement by the owners that they’d be leaving to build a new stadium in Worcester, Mass. Pawtucket had been hoping to build a new ballpark on the Apex site near the historic mill.

While Grebien said he was “shocked and disappointed” by the team’s decision to jump ship, he did not point fingers at any one person or institution, emphasizing that Rhode Island would not have been able to afford the financial incentives being offered to the team in Massachusetts.

“At no time would I ever have put our city’s finances or financial health at risk, nor did we do that for the state of Rhode Island,” Grebien said. “To compete with Worcester, an offer would’ve jeopardized our city’s future, and I would not have done that.”

Grebien said the best chance at retaining the team would have been during the time when the team was exclusively negotiating with Pawtucket, but he said the “lingering of the cloud of 38 Studios threw a blanket over any attempts at a speedy resolution.”

The team started accepting offers to move to other cities last summer.

Grebien also declared the city “will acquire the Apex site,” where the ballpark would have been built. PawSox Chairman Larry Lucchino specifically cited the failure to acquire the land as one of the reasons for leaving, but city officials have said they were confident they would have been able to buy the land or take it by eminent domain.

Grebien told reporters the city and the owner of the Apex site, Andrew Gates, have each conducted appraisals that put different values on the land. He said the city’s appraised value was between $5 million and $10 million. Grebien said he spoke to Gates Wednesday morning, and a spokesperson said the city is slated to meet with Gates next week.

Attempts by Eyewitness News to reach Gates for comment have been unsuccessful. Chris Hunter, a spokesperson for Apex, declined to comment on the possible sale or the company’s appraised value.

Grebien also addressed the future of McCoy Stadium, where the PawSox will continue to play for the next two years. He said the process to find a new use for the stadium will be “expedited,” and that the city would look into bringing in another baseball team.

A spokesperson for Grebien said 20 full-time jobs will be lost at McCoy, not including the players. He did not immediately have the number of part-time and seasonal jobs that will be lost. Hundreds of potential construction jobs at the proposed new ballpark will also not be realized.

But Gov. Gina Raimondo announced that Collette, a Pawtucket-based travel company, would be adding between 75 and 100 jobs at their global headquarters. The state is offering tax credits to the company.

The Raimondo administration will also be investing $300,000 in “streetscape investments” around the planned Pawtucket-Central Falls train station.

Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor said similar money could be made available for the redevelopment of the Apex site, once there is a plan for what to put there.

“A lot of great things are happening here,” Raimondo said. “A minor-league team does not make Pawtucket. This is a major-league city, the Blackstone Valley is a major-league region. We have big plans. Greater days are ahead.”

Grebien and Raimondo were joined at the news conference by many mayors of Rhode Island’s cities, along with Lt. Gov. Dan McKee and members of Pawtucket’s General Assembly delegation. 

Some of those lawmakers have pointed the finger at House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello for killing a Senate-passed bill to build a stadium in Pawtucket. That version of the deal had been negotiated between the state, the city and the team. 

“I negotiated with my team and with the mayor a deal that was one of the best deals in minor-league baseball history,” Raimondo said. “And the team accepted it.”

When asked if he thought the team would have stayed under the terms of that deal, Grebien said: “To the best of my knowledge, yes.”

Mattiello declined an interview on Wednesday. He has said the Senate bill put too much risk on the taxpayers, and he brought forward a different version of the bill that passed the General Assembly in June. At that point, negotiations between the PawSox and Worcester were already well underway.

“They wanted a bigger taxpayer subsidy,” Raimondo said. “The owners, all of whom are multi-millionaires, wanted more from taxpayers. And we have a job to protect taxpayers, which we did.”

Grebien said he does plan to speak with Lucchino soon about the team’s remaining two years in Pawtucket, but the two men have not yet talked.

“Larry Lucchino has reached out, to his credit,” Grebien said. “I have not responded yet.”

Watch the full news conference below and stay with Eyewitness News for continuing coverage tonight starting live at 5 on WPRI 12.

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

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