PawSox want $4M a year from RI for Prov. stadium

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Providence stadium rendering April 2015_163837

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The new owners of the Pawtucket Red Sox have finally put some meat on the bones of their proposal for a downtown Providence stadium – and they want $4 million a year from Rhode Island taxpayers to subsidize it.

Team president Jim Skeffington on Wednesday revealed for the first time how much the new stadium would cost to build – $85 million – and how much the owners want taxpayers to contribute. He also unveiled artist renderings of what the stadium might look like and released a study the AAA team commissioned about the project’s economic benefits.

“Our proposal represents a good faith effort to propose a way for the state and the city to help support the new owners in their efforts to keep the team in Rhode Island,” Skeffington said. He added: “All minor league baseball parks require some substantial form of financial support from government.”

Skeffington said the new owners would put up the $85 million required to design and build the ballpark, but would seek state and city subsidies after it’s finished to help recoup the cost. They also want a 30-year lease on the land – at $1 a year – from the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission and Brown University, with an option to buy it at fair market value at the end of the lease.

The team is asking state lawmakers to approve a guaranteed 30-year state lease of the new stadium that would commit taxpayers to pay about $5 million a year in rent, which would come out to $150 million over the life of the lease. The team would then sublease the stadium back from the state for $1 million a year, putting the net cost to taxpayers at $4 million annually, or $120 million over the life of the lease.

Skeffington said the proposed financing structure for the ballpark was modeled on the deal put together to turn the South Street Power Station into a new state nursing school. He noted that McCoy Stadium is city-owned and state-subsidized; the PawSox currently pay the state about $34,000 a year to use it.

The economic-impact study commissioned by the team from the consulting firm Brailsford & Dunlavey estimated games played in the new park will generate $12.3 million in direct spending and about $2 million a year in additional state tax revenue, which Skeffington said would further reduce the out-of-pocket cost of the park to taxpayers to about $2 million a year. He described the estimates as “conservative.”

“In our present case, the new owners are taking all the risk of designing and completing the construction of a ballpark and are offering to pay 100% of the costs with our private funds,” he said. “We are using the lease/sublease arrangement as a vehicle to obtain financial support to help us keep the team in the state.”

In addition, the team is asking Providence leaders to sign a 30-year agreement to exempt the stadium from property taxes, and to amend the city zoning code to permit the park to be built on the site without a variance.

The clock is now ticking: Skeffington said the PawSox want the General Assembly to approve a deal before they adjourn for the year in June. If an agreement isn’t reached, the team will start talking with officials in cities outside Rhode Island who’ve already expressed an interest in luring the stadium there, he said.

“If we’re not in Providence, we’re probably not going to be in Rhode Island,” he said.

Gov. Gina Raimondo, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza and state legislative leaders reacted cautiously to the proposal unveiled Wednesday, with the mayor pledging that the city will work with the state to closely scrutinize the details. Raimondo called the idea “exciting,” but cautioned that the state has “very limited resources to invest in economic growth.”

State Rep. John Carnevale, D-Providence, expressed full-throated support for the stadium at the press conference and said he expects it to win approval, noting that the old I-195 land Skeffington wants to use was supposed to be a public park, which would have cost money to maintain. But state Rep. Doreen Costa, R-North Kingstown, said the state can’t afford the subsidy.

The roughly 10,000-seat, three-story ballpark unveiled Wednesday would put home plate at the intersection of Dyer, Eddy and Ship streets on the old I-195 land. In a statement, the team said it would feature “brick exterior walls, exposed structural steel, and high arched openings,” as well as an “iconic lighthouse” to reflect Rhode Island’s maritime heritage and an elevated walkway looking out over Providence.

The ballpark’s design was done by D’Agostino Izzo Quirk Architects of Boston, which has worked on Fenway Park’s renovations, and Populous of Kansas City, Missouri, the firm behind Baltimore’s widely admired Camden Yards. In addition to the ballpark, the team would chip in $10 million to build a 750-car parking garage in partnership with the developer redoing the old South Street Power Station.

“We have the opportunity to convert a unique parcel of urban land into a vibrant gathering place for people of all backgrounds,” PawSox Chairman and Boston Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino said in a statement. “We are experienced in the transformative powers that a well-placed ballpark can have; we believe we can make this happen here.”

The cost of attending a game at the new Providence ballpark would be “about the same as Pawtucket” currently, and parking in the new garage would cost $3 for those who have a ticket to a game, Skeffington told reporters. Construction could start in December and the first game could be played in April 2017 if the deal gets approved, he said.

Skeffington said the owners hope to have roughly 100 “big” events at the stadium a year, including at least 72 minor-league ballgames as well as concerts and collegiate sporting events such as Brown and Bryant football. They are also considering an event venue modeled on the EMC Club at Fenway Park.

The land where the owners want to put the new stadium is about 70% state-controlled through the ownership of the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission, while the rest is owned and used by Brown University, which has expressed interest in supporting the stadium project.

Wednesday’s announcement represented by far the most detailed information the new group has released since buying the minor-league team for a reported $20 million in February and announcing plans to leave McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, the team’s home since the 1970s.

In addition to Skeffington, who’s been a prominent mover-and-shaker in Rhode Island’s business and political elite for years, the new ownership group includes Lucchino and the Fenway Sports Group as well as prominent corporate leaders such as retired CEOs Tom Ryan of CVS and Terry Murray of Fleet. (Lucchino was scheduled to attend Wednesday’s press conference but canceled to commemorate the Boston Marathon bombing at Fenway.)

While the new owners have emphasized that they will obtain the $85 million to finance the project privately rather than ask the state to borrow the money for them, the amount of money they stand to make under the deal they’ve proposed remains opaque.

Skeffington refused to answer when WPRI.com asked Wednesday when the owners would break even and begin to make a profit on the stadium should they receive the amount of public money they’ve requested, saying they’re a private company. He also declined to say how much they paid for the PawSox.

“We’re not going to lose money,” he said. “But we’re not trying to make the last dollar, either. Because frankly, just think about it – if we were, we wouldn’t be having this [news] conference today … because there are other communities that are willing to put that money in and we wouldn’t have to.”

The $85 million estimated cost of the stadium project breaks down as $70 million for the actual ballpark, $5 million to move Narragansett Bay Commission and National Grid utilities located underneath the site, and $10 million for the team’s share of the new parking garage.

The team owners will consider selling the naming rights to the Providence stadium once it gets built, Skeffington said. He also reiterated once again that staying at McCoy Stadium isn’t an option.

“It’s not easy to leave Pawtucket, but the reality is our fans deserve the best that we can put before them – and our players – in terms of facilities,” he said. “We hope to build a state-of-the-art facility, one that will be the envy of other teams, just like we did down in Fort Meyers with our spring-training complex.”Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesiThis story has been updated and expanded.

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

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