Raimondo wooing soccer, AA baseball teams to fill McCoy Stadium

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PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo says she’s actively trying to recruit a new professional sports team to replace the Pawtucket Red Sox at McCoy Stadium once the team leaves at the end of next year.

“I’m hard at work trying to get some other use for the stadium — soccer team, AA [baseball] team,” Raimondo told an audience at Harvard’s Kennedy School on Wednesday night. “I’m not letting the lights go out on McCoy.”

Asked to elaborate, Commerce RI spokesperson Brian Hodge told WPRI 12, “We have received inquiries from multiple potential applicants regarding the reuse of McCoy Stadium – including inquiries about tenancies involving baseball, soccer, and other possibilities.”

Commerce is currently working with Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien’s office on a forthcoming request for proposals on the future use of McCoy. Grebien’s spokesperson, Wilder Arboleda, said the mayor remains focused on a plan for the stadium and thanked the governor for her “hard work” on it.

“We look forward to seeing the many responses and finding the one that will continue making Pawtucket a great destination,” Arboleda said.

The PawSox ownership opted last year to move the team to Worcester in 2021 in exchange for city taxpayers’ help in paying for a brand-new stadium there. The decision came after years of political wrangling in Rhode Island over the team’s effort to get state taxpayers to help fund a new stadium in Pawtucket.

Victor Matheson, a sports economist at the College of the Holy Cross, warned that bringing another professional baseball team to McCoy could be complicated.

“Given the proximity of the relocated PawSox’s new stadium being constructed in Worcester, it is possible that MLB would attempt to block the move of an affiliated AA team to Pawtucket,” Matheson told WPRI 12 in an email, referring to Major League Baseball.

“Of course, teams not part of the MLB system, like the current Worcester Bravehearts, would not be subject to MLB rules regarding franchise location,” he added.

Raimondo wound up taking criticism from both sides over her handling of the PawSox, as stadium supporters argued she failed to spend enough political capital trying to retain the minor-league franchise, while opponents slammed her for negotiating a subsidy package that was ultimately blocked by House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello.

A Harvard student who said he hails from Woonsocket posed the question about the PawSox to Raimondo during her talk there Wednesday. The governor acknowledged the “emotional” pain of losing the team, but continued to defend her decisions.

The new ownership wanted “a fancy new stadium” paid for with “a very large subsidy” from taxpayers, Raimondo said. “We said no, because it’s my job to protect taxpayers,” she said, and then Worcester jumped into the fray by offering “a gigantic subsidy.”

“I just didn’t think it was the right thing to do, to compete with that gigantic subsidy,” she said, acknowledging it was “a tough decision.”

McCoy is owned by Pawtucket and leased by the state, which subleases it to the PawSox.

The state has spent about $2 million maintaining the 77-year-old stadium in recent years and expects to spend an additional $600,000 through June, followed by another $200,000 in the 2019-20 fiscal year, budget documents show.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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