PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The owners of the Pawtucket Red Sox have finally pulled the plug on their much-maligned proposal to build a new ballpark on former I-195 land along the riverfront. But that doesn’t mean they’ve given up hope of moving to Providence.
A number of state and local leaders are encouraging the team to continue examining the former Victory Polishing and Plating Co. headquarters in Providence as a potential stadium location, even though the Lifespan hospital group just bought the site this month. The property – dubbed Victory Place – is located near Davol Square in the Jewelry District.
Victory Place has been in the mix as an alternative ballpark site for months, with its former owner pitching the idea publicly in April and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza successfully convincing PawSox Chairman Larry Lucchino to tour the site just last month. Advocates have noted its close proximity to the highway and a relative lack of development around it.
In a statement over the weekend confirming Gov. Gina Raimondo had ruled out the I-195 stadium site, Lucchino hinted that he was still open to Victory Place, saying the team “will now begin to consider all other options and proposals we receive, including City officials’ suggestion of potential other sites in Providence.”
PawSox spokeswoman Patti Doyle on Monday reaffirmed the team’s commitment to leaving McCoy Stadium, but also suggested they remain interested in Victory Place.
“We did our due diligence and had a lot of positive thoughts about it,” Doyle told WPRI.com. “But at this point we are regrouping after being told definitively that the 195 land isn’t appropriate.”
Part of the reason Victory Place continues to be discussed is because Lifespan has made clear it has no immediate plans to use the site, raising fears the prominent spot could be “land-banked” and remain dormant for an extended period of time.
Lifespan spokeswoman Jane Bruno had little to say about the ballpark talk when reached by WPRI.com. “There are no active talks going on [with the team] and there are no immediate plans for the site,” she said in an email.
It’s also unclear whether the parcel Lifespan bought would provide enough space for a stadium, or if the team would also have to try and acquire land owned by neighboring businesses such as Coletta’s Garage & Towing. A similar problem helped torpedo the 195 stadium site, after Brown University demanded $15 million for a required parcel it owns.
Just as important is the tough politics of a stadium deal. While some of the opposition to the 195 site centered on the fact that the proposed location had been earmarked for a public park, other critics made a more general case against all taxpayer subsidies for sports facilities – which presumably would still be in play at Victory Place.
Evan England, a spokesman for Mayor Elorza, reiterated Monday his interest in a possible Victory Place ballpark, though England also emphasized again the mayor’s position that city taxpayers shouldn’t pay “out of pocket for any costs associated with building and operating the ballpark.”
As for Victory Place, “we haven’t received any specific proposal for that Lifespan property either way, which means that it is still a potential site,” England said.
Providence City Councilman Sam Zurier, who represents the East Side – a hotbed of stadium opposition – raised the Victory Place idea over the weekend in an email to his constituents. “I am hopeful the team will continue looking at Victory Square, as Lifespan has not announced its development plans for the site,” he wrote.
House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, who emerged long ago as the strongest State House supporter of a Providence ballpark, also left the door open to a Victory Place ballpark in a statement Monday.
“I still believe a ballpark could serve as a catalyst for economic activity in Providence,” Mattiello told WPRI.com. “I have taken no active role in any discussions about Victory Place and have not spoken with anyone at Lifespan.”
“If the PawSox’ owners secure that or any other land and I believe it would be in the best interests of the state and the taxpayers, I would be willing to listen,” he said.
As for Governor Raimondo, she and her aides lately have been publicly pushing the PawSox to take “a fresh look” at McCoy, despite the team ownership’s emphatic statements about leaving Pawtucket. Her spokeswoman, Marie Aberger, said Monday the governor’s position on the debate hasn’t changed.
“As the governor has said from the beginning, she wants to keep the PawSox in Rhode Island,” Aberger said. “We’re open to exploring Victory Place and other locations, but only if it makes sense for Rhode Island taxpayers.”
Meanwhile, activists who led the successful battle against the 195 stadium site continued to celebrate their victory on Monday, with many expressing hope it will convince the team to stay at McCoy.
Still, Sam Bell, chairman of Stop the Stadium Deal, gave a cautious response to the possibility of a ballpark at Victory Place. “We’re fine with other sites in Providence, as long as they gain neighborhood support, and they don’t receive public subsidies,” he said in an email.
“That being said, I don’t think the PawSox would leave Pawtucket for anything less than what they have now, and what they have now is way too generous,” he said. “So in practice, I think it really makes most sense for them to take a fresh look at Pawtucket.”
Bell added: “If this ownership group remains uninterested in Pawtucket, perhaps they should sell the team, and we should put together a Green Bay Packers-style fan ownership model.”Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He hosts Executive Suite and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi