Larry Lucchino, former president and CEO of operations for the Boston Red Sox and current vice president and chair of the Triple-A affiliate Pawtucket Red Sox, was adamant about preventing an experience similar to the first one he had at Fenway Park from happening at what he hopes will be the new home of the PawSox – still in Pawtucket, located on the site of the former Apex department store adjacent to Slater Mill.
“I was a baseball executive at the time,” he recalled. “It was in the offseason, and there was a guy standing at the door, he could have been armed for all I knew, saying, ‘No, absolutely not you can’t go in.’ I say, here, look at my credentials. ‘I don’t care who you work for or what you do, you’re not coming in.’”
Six months later Lucchino owned the Red Sox, and the attendant was much nicer to him, he joked. The story was purposed to drive home a point – should the city of Pawtucket and the state accept the PawSox proposal to build a brand new, $83 million ballpark in the shadow of I-95 along the banks of the Blackstone River, it would be a park open to the public, year-round, not some exclusive club owned by the team.
The selling points for the new stadium proposal – one which would open up a brand new facility for use by high schools, colleges and the city and state – are strong. Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien is in full support, saying that letting the team leave Pawtucket would “allow for the continued economic decline affecting our great city.”
Financially, the PawSox are going to lengths they don’t really have to, investing $45 million into the project, which is 54 percent of the total project cost and would be the single largest private investment in the history of Pawtucket.
The state would pony up $23 million, and the city would borrow for $15 million. To the City of Pawtucket, this approximately $950,000 annual debt service for their share of building the park would be completely paid for by tax revenue generated from the ballpark and other mixed-use facilities on the site.
The state’s annual debt service would be about $1.4 million, and Lucchino pointed out that this is below the current amount of revenue the team contributes to the state each year – around $2 million. Pawtucket and the state are also shielded from project cost overruns, as those would be the responsibility of the team, not the taxpayers.
“The simple concept to remember is that the ballpark pays for itself,” Lucchino said. “I guess the only issue is do we think the PawSox will be successful in drawing enough people to the ballpark so the users and the team generate the taxes that are necessary to pay off the debt service.”
This truly is the only variable in what is an otherwise fantastic deal for Pawtucket and the state of Rhode Island in general. This question is no doubt the main factor resulting in the state legislature’s tentativeness to jump at the proposal, besides political agendas and maneuverings, which, as Lucchino has learned, play a big role in just about every decision made in Rhode Island.
The thought of entering Rhode Island and seeing a brightly-lit green space, strikingly similar to Fenway Park in appearance, directly off to your right as you drive through downtown Pawtucket on 95 is exciting. The opportunities for growth in Pawtucket is similarly tantalizing, as the park could be an economic catalyst for an area that currently boasts no major attractions for developers or consumers.
Some have tried to compare this deal to the 38 Studios debacle, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The state swung and missed on 38 Studios in an unprecedented way, essentially giving a blank check to an unproven business owner in a volatile industry with absolutely no oversight or guarantee of a return on that investment besides a, “We’ll give it our best shot, sure will.”
In this proposal, the numbers are all public record, and the team has gone through about 40 hours total of public hearings in front of legislators and critics. The proposal has withstood all the scrutiny, and it vastly improves over their 2015 proposal to move the team to Providence – which would have left the state on the hook for $68 million in borrowing, compared to $23 million here while also keeping the Sox in their home city.
Too often, cynicism and political agendas serve as a metaphorical Fenway security attendant, blocking potential progress without wanting to hear a word of explanation. The PawSox want to stay in Pawtucket, and they want to continue to produce for Rhode Island – stow the attitude and let’s play ball.