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$400M Pawtucket soccer project may need more time, but ‘countless investors’ interested

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — With the first deadline for a proposed $400 million Pawtucket waterfront soccer stadium project about a month away, the developer offered optimism Thursday about fundraising but also indicated more time may be needed to nail down the many specifics.

Brett Johnson, of Fortuitous Partners, addressed a Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce breakfast audience on a panel that included Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien and R.I. Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor. The topic of discussion: the proposed $400 million development project in Pawtucket known as Tidewater Landing.

As currently designed, Tidewater Landing is a three-site giant that would include a 7,500-seat stadium for a professional soccer team on the west bank of the Seekonk River, a housing and retail development on Division Street on the east side, a riverwalk and a pedestrian bridge to connect the two sides.

To the north, Johnson has proposed building a 200-room hotel and an indoor-sports complex on the waterfront land that is currently home to the old Apex department store.

Johnson referenced the Opportunity Zone program, created by the Trump administration, which would allow investors to defer capital gains taxes by investing the money in public projects. Since Johnson rolled out the Tidewater Landing proposal on Dec. 2, he said there’s been more financial interest than he has capacity for the project.

“We have countless investors that have deep pockets that have literally hundreds of millions of dollars worth of capital gains or will have capital gains they want to invest,” Johnson said. “But I will be biased toward Rhode Island investors. If needed, I will look in other areas as well.”

In December, Johnson said he had about $100 million in verbal commitments for the project, but he would not elaborate on that now, saying he needs to wait until all the necessary approvals — including long-term leases — are locked into place.

Grebien said he’s not concerned Johnson didn’t offer even a verbal total for the private funding commitment.

“We’ve been out there meeting with some of their investors,” Grebien said. “One gentlemen alone in his portfolio is worth $80 million. So, the money is available.”

The proposal calls for $300 million in private money, and $70 to $90 million in public funding that would be covered by the General Assembly-approved Tax Increment Financing program, known as TIF, which allows borrowed money to be paid back with sales and hotel taxes collected from the finished development.

Johnson agreed to a 120-day due diligence phase to line up a web of agreements and other details, and the deadline is slated for early April. But it’s now unclear whether that deadline will be met.

“We may need an extension,” Johnson said. “My confidence is very high.”

Commerce spokesperson Matt Sheaff said an extension would be “understandable.”

“There may be a need for additional time and Commerce would review the request when it’s presented,” Sheaff said.

Johnson, meanwhile, said his current focus is on using two of pieces of land, since the city has yet to acquire the Apex site. Mayor Grebien offered more optimism about that, saying the two sides in the Apex negotiations “have never been closer.” According to Grebien, when the city was trying to buy the land for the failed Pawsox ballpark proposal, the owners wanted more than $20 million while the city was offering about half that.

“We’re a million to two away now,” Grebien said. “I feel very confident that we’ll get this done.”

Grebien added the city is still prepared to use eminent domain to acquire the property, but he said legal fees would add to the price tag if that happens. Once the property is in the city’s control, he added, there would be a discussion about whether Tidewater Landing is the best fit.

While Johnson is ready for the possibility of not building on the Apex site, he still hopes that part of the deal comes through.

“If we’re so fortunate to see Apex come in the mix as well, that’s the best situation I can possibly imagine,” Johnson said. “It just gives me more options to play with.”

Grebien said the next step is for the Pawtucket City Council to discuss the redevelopment plan approved by the Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency as soon as next week, and decide on the recommendation of Fortuitous as the preferred developer.

The state’s economic impact projections include more than 1,000 permanent jobs, 2,500 construction jobs and a predicted $130 million per year increase to the state’s economy.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

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

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