PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) – While the recently proposed $400 million development in Pawtucket does not include a plan for McCoy Stadium, public officials are nonetheless bullish that there is a future for the soon-to-be-vacant ballpark.
Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien is optimistic baseball could continue to live on at the minor league stadium, which will be left empty when the Pawtucket Red Sox relocate to Worcester, Mass., after next season.
“In a perfect world, if we could balance both baseball and soccer, and it benefited the development and activity, we’d want to do it all,” Grebien said recently during Political Roundtable on The Public’s Radio.
Grebien last week joined state leaders to unveil the new development that prominently features a professional soccer stadium proposed for the west bank of the Seekonk River. The deal was one of six proposals made to the McCoy Stadium and Pawtucket Downtown RFP Review Committee, which state officials said will continue to meet to consider other ideas for McCoy.
A new deal involving the ballpark, however, does not appear imminent, especially as state and local officials are busy negotiating a final deal with Fortuitous Partners, the company involved in the $400 million development, which is supposed to be completed by about April 20.
“We will return to the questions surrounding McCoy once this process gets going,” Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor said last week during a meeting with reporters about the soccer complex.
Grebien is hopeful discussions will resume shortly after the New Year, saying there are still some good options on the table, including one involving a new professional baseball team.
“It’s hard for me as I’m sitting here to try and give you a timeline. I can’t,” he said. “But there will be a reuse at McCoy.”
Frank Boulton, founder and CEO of the Long Island Ducks, has proposed starting an Atlantic League professional baseball team at McCoy. He helped launch the league — which today comprises the Ducks and seven other teams that play independently from Major League Baseball — more than 20 years ago.
Boulton told Target 12 he met multiple times with Rhode Island officials and visited McCoy this past summer, and while he thinks the stadium needs to be modified – namely made smaller – he thinks it could continue to serve as a good place to play baseball.
“The ballpark and the market are good,” he said.
Rhode Island officials contacted Boulton to tell him the state reached a preliminary agreement with Fortuitous, but left the door open for future negotiations. Boulton said he’s still interested in McCoy if it makes sense for the city, state and business community moving forward.
“If I can be part of helping professional baseball continue in Pawtucket, that’s my main goal. I own baseball teams, so I don’t necessarily need to own another one,” he said. “I know they had a deal they couldn’t turn down.”
Boulton said the Atlantic League is also currently well-positioned given the brewing turmoil between Major League Baseball and minor league teams. The MLB, which includes the Boston Red Sox, has proposed eliminating 42 minor-league teams as part of negotiations between the two leagues, whose current agreement expires after the 2020 season.
It’s too early to tell whether the proposal will become a reality, but Boulton said such a move would bolster the Atlantic League with an influx of players. The league already boasts about 50 player contract sales to MLB organizations each year, according to its website.
“We play a comparable classification of baseball,” he said.
A group called Minor League Baseball for Pawtucket, meanwhile, has also made a pitch to bring a minor-league baseball team to the city. The group is described as local Rhode Island business leaders and community members, who want to explore the possibility of “continuing a rich tradition of affiliated, Minor League Baseball in Pawtucket.”
PawSox minority owner and vice chairman Mike Tamburro has taken part in the group, according to The Providence Journal. But in a response to a request for comment, a PawSox spokesperson said, “Any plans to bring a Single-A baseball team to McCoy are on hold.”
Boulton suspects the uncertainty between the MLB and minor league could work against the proposal, and while Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo has mentioned the possibility of a Double-A minor-league baseball team coming to McCoy, Kevin Reichard of the online industry publication BallparkDigest.com suggested in April that a Single-A team from the New York-Penn League makes more sense.
“While [Raimondo] has spoken of attracting a Class AA Eastern League team, the lack of available teams in that circuit make it more likely a Short Season A NY-Penn League is the target, with two teams in that league on the market and available for a 2021 move,” he wrote.
Grebien, who isn’t giving away whether he thinks any proposal looks better than another, also alluded to the idea that more soccer could be an option for the ballpark. But Fortuitous clearly decided McCoy didn’t work for its vision for soccer, and Pryor said making such a conversion between sports fields is tough.
“It’s complicated to convert a venue configured for baseball to one configured for soccer. We did look at it closely, we looked at it in general and with Fortuitous. It was not terribly practical,” he said.
Grebien, meanwhile, isn’t ruling out that sports might not be in the cards at all for the future of McCoy. In that case, he said, the city might knock it down and designate it for municipal use.
“That has to be fleshed out over the next few months,” he said.
Kim Kalunian contributed to this report.