PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Construction crews are pulling back from the massive soccer stadium project in Pawtucket, offering the first sign financing for the development is drying up.
Target 12 confirmed Wednesday workers are beginning to move onto other projects, despite local labor leaders reporting there being plenty of work left at the partially built stadium alongside the Seekonk River.
Influential union leader Michael Sabitoni told Target 12 the decision to pull back comes as private financing for the project has been depleted, although he expressed optimism the project would pick back up once more funding becomes available.
“We knew this potentially would happen,” Sabitoni said. “That’s just how things roll.”
So far, developer Fortuitous Partners has reported putting nearly $30 million into the project, but the company has struggled in recent months to complete its private fundraising efforts. (The Boston Globe reported last month Fortuitous’ principal Brett Johnson was still seeking $10 million from investors.)
As a result, city and state officials have postponed a plan to issue public bonds to pay for taxpayers’ share of the public-private development project.
The so-called Tidewater Landing development is supposed to be where minor-league soccer team Rhode Island FC will play its home games, but the team has already announced it will play its inaugural season next year at Bryant University.
“That’s why the city and state have to kick in at some point and make good on their obligations,” Sabitoni said, lauding Fortuitous for funding the project entirely with private funds so far.
“Time is money,” he added. “The longer you wait, things go up — the costs always go up in construction. Always.”
Mike Holmes of the Carpenters Union Local 330 union echoed Sabitoni, saying construction crews have entered into a stage known as “demobilization,” which is typically associated with the ending of a project.
“In this case, there is work to be done, but contractors are already going elsewhere,” he told Target 12. “It is incredibly rare to see contractors that have work ahead of them depart a site.”
Fortuitous spokesperson Mike Raia told Target 12 the developer is up to date with all of its payments, saying the company continues to work with city and state officials and “expects to finish the private equity and debt financing in the near term.”
“In analyzing the work completed at the site to this stage and the amount of private funding already allocated to construction, this is an appropriate time to demobilize certain components of the construction while others continue,” Raia said in a statement. “We remain fully committed to completing a transformative project in the heart of Pawtucket.”
Raia did not dispute that private financing for the project has been depleted and underscored “this has always been a public-private partnership and it will take public financing to complete.”
Spokespersons for Gov. Dan McKee and Mayor Donald Grebien did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday night.
Sabitoni said it’s not unusual for big construction projects to have ups and downs, adding his members would be ready once the project is ready to ramp up again. He rejected the idea that this was a sign the project is dead, saying Fortuitous would have walked away a long time ago if it wasn’t committed to seeing it through.
“I don’t think it’s anything to be alarmed about,” he said. “They would have stopped construction and pulled the plug months ago and not spent their own capital if they didn’t have the confidence.”