So is Rhode Island approaching a boon or a boondoggle?
Don’t get in line just yet for your luxury box seats at the new Providence ballpark that the new owners of the Pawtucket Red Sox want to build on the downtown Providence waterfront . The new owners and Mayor Jorge Elorza say any plan for a new stadium is in infant stages.
While the move from Pawtucket’s iconic McCoy Stadium to a new site in Providence has drawn stellar initial reviews from the state’s political hierarchy and Elorza, the plans are a long, long fly ball from completion.
The new owners, a group led by prominent Providence lawyer James Skeffington and Boston Red Sox president Larry Lucchino, say they want to build an urban stadium near the newly opened waterfront formerly occupied by Route 195. A new stadium would replace Pawtucket’s McCoy Stadium, where the Boston Red Sox top minor league club has played since the 1970s.
They mentioned so-called Parcel 25 along the Providence River near the Brown University Continuing Education center, which was recently the headquarters of Richard Baccari Sr.’s Churchill & Banks real estate development company. It is located in the old Jewelry District, which the state and city have tried to rebrand as a Knowledge District.
Skeffington told reporters that while McCoy holds memories for generations of Rhode Island baseball fans and has the history of hosting professional baseballs longest game – a 33-inning marathon in 1981 – it is now the oldest stadium in the AAA International League.
A new stadium in downtown Providence could be a ``catalyst’’ for downtown development. He said a major hotel company has already expressed interested in building nearby.
Elorza, Gov. Gina Raimondo and House Speaker Nick Mattiello, D-Cranston, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, D-Newport and Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio, D-Providence have welcomed the new baseball proposal. Yet it is far from a done deal. Nor should it be.
Federal and state taxpayers have paid millions for development and infrastructure on this land. Under Gov. Lincoln Chafee, the land was viewed as a home to businesses in the high-education and well-paying education and medical field. Some, including Colin Kane, the former head of the 195 Commission, believed that it could one day be a job generating district in the same manner as Kendall Square in Cambridge, Mass., which is near Harvard and M.I.T. and has evolved over the past 25 years from urban blight to a bastion of high-tech and bio-tech activity.
So one question Rhode Island pols and business leaders must address: Is a baseball stadium, even one with the modern attractions McCoy lacks, the best use of that land?
``I’m not sure,’’ says Scott Wolf, executive of Grow Smart Rhode Island. ``It’s not a slam dunk that this would be the wisest and best use of that land.’’
``I think it has to be evaluated carefully,’’ says Wolf. ``High wage and high technology businesses, that would be a better use.’’
``I’m not saying the PawSox shouldn’t relocate there, but there needs to be some careful thought about what other options might be better there from an economic development standpoint,’’ says Wolf.
Baseball stadiums and other tourist attractions don’t provide the well-paying jobs that high-technology and educational institutions provide. There are lots of seasonal, low-wage positions slinging cocktails, pouring beer and taking tickets, but they don’t pay living family wages. If tourist attractions were the way to build a middle-class economy, New Orleans would be the wealthiest city in the U.S. (It isn’t, despite its healthy supply of great places to eat, drink and hear jazz.)
Of course, if it comes down to locating a new stadium in Providence or leaving the state for a site, in say, Massachusetts, there would be enormous pressure on state pols and city officials to give in and put the stadium in Providence.
The ownership group contains Rhode Island natives – some of whom may claim Florida residence these days for tax purposes – who know their way around the Ocean State’s incestuous political and business culture. Skeffington, retired Fleet banker Terry Murray and Tom Ryan, retired ceo of the CVS pharmacy chain, all have been fairly good over the years at getting what want out of state pols. Ryan and Murray are substantial campaign contributors to Raimondo.
One sticking point is what kind of state and local subsidies the new owners would seek from Rhode Island and Providence taxpayers? Skeffington was hazy about those questions, saying only that he hopes the state and city would join the new project ``in some fashion.’’
For Elorza’s part, he calls the plans ``very preliminary’’ and said the proposal has so many moving parts that it isn’t fair to jump to any conclusions. Still, he says it is an exciting development that the new owners want to move to the capital city. Stay tuned. This one is bound to get interesting. Again, boon or boondoggle?