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Soccer project to cost $300M without Apex, groundbreaking expected by spring

Target 12

PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Tidewater Landing is expected to rise on two plots of land instead of three with a lower price tag, but city leaders and developers are predicting shovels will be in the ground as early as spring.

The riverfront project that includes a professional soccer stadium as its centerpiece took a step forward with the presentation of a land lease agreement to the city council, and while there are many steps left, Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien expressed great optimism.

“There’s no doubt we’re saying the shovels will be in the ground in spring, no later than summer of next year,” Grebien said. “We’re finishing the due diligence.”

That due diligence includes the proposed $1 a year, 50-year lease for city-owned land on Division Street. Two 25-year extensions are also part of the agreement that would allow the developer to control the property for a century for $100.

Grebien and Brett Johnson, from developer Fortuitous Partners, predicted the sweetheart lease deal is more than balanced by what Tidewater Landing will bring to the city and state.

“Over the 30 year-arc of this, tax revenue and jobs that will be created,” Johnson said. “It’s staggering. Hundreds of millions of dollars on top of that investment.”

Fortuitous Partners is in the process of negotiating a deal for the second piece of land that is currently owned by National Grid and in need of soil remediation.

Johnson also said he is still working out plan details with R.I. Commerce Corp. that will allow the developer to lock in private investors.

“We have to finalize the master development agreement,” Johnson said. “And that will really start to bring into the big picture all the financial pieces.”

The site of the shuttered Apex store is no longer in the mix after negotiations between the city and owner of the property stalled.

That change prompted moving the hotel and indoor event center to the Division Street location. Office space was also cut down and more multi-family housing was added.

The project was initially pegged to cost about $400 million, but without the Apex site it is now expected to cost somewhere above $300 million with up to $90 million in public funding.

“With other investments for the on-site businesses including the soccer team, I still believe the project will be well north of 400 million when it’s all said and done,” Johnson said. “And I would welcome the opportunity to do something special with [the Apex site] but in the meantime I won’t lose sleep over it.”

Grebien admits he had doubts along the way while trying push the project forward during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I expected there to be another bump in the road or another 20 bumps,” Grebien said. “Bureaucracy takes time and what’s exciting is they’re willing to come in and invest in Pawtucket.”

Johnson added, “The pandemic has not caused anyone to wilt from the opportunity.”

“Our conviction never wavered and I give credit to the city council, commerce, the mayor, the governor,” Johnson said. “I think this project was needed before the pandemic. I think it’s needed even more now.”

The public funding will come from the state’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) program that allows money borrowed for the development to be paid back with sales and hotel taxes from the finished project.

Private investors are expected to be motivated by the project site’s designation as an Opportunity Zone. The Trump Administration and Congress created the program that allows deferring federal taxes by investing capital gains in economically distressed areas.

Johnson said he is not worried about politics getting in the way.

“If we switch presidents, that president has said he’s in support of opportunity zones,” Johnson said. “And candidly, I think those changes would only help Tidewater Landing.”

One change Johnson does expect involves when the first soccer game will be played in the stadium.

“We would need all the planets to really align if we would have a true hope of getting a season in 2022,” Johnson said. “I feel the reality is it might end up slipping into 2023.”

Tidewater Landing is expected to create more than 1,000 permanent jobs and 2,500 construction jobs while injecting $130 million-a-year into the state’s economy.

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

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