Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said Monday he's hopeful an agreement will emerge in the near future for a plan to build a new PawSox stadium in downtown Providence.
"Since I don't have a finalized set of terms at this point, I can't predict," Mattiello said. "But in the near future. I would like to see something come out within the next few weeks, several weeks."
Mattiello said the intention is to arrive at an agreement for a revenue-neutral proposal and solicit feedback from the public.
Asked to respond to critics who think a state subsidy will be built in, he said, "I don't know what to say to those people. They're just naysayers, and they're not going to appreciate any deal, no matter how good it is. There are some folks that don't want investment. They're are some folks that think it's politically more advantageous to say, 'No,' and to be against any type of investment than to move forward."
In the meantime, two top sports economists agree that Larry Luchino's decision to step down as the Red Sox president and CEO could boost the PawSox effort to build a new stadium.
"The big thing it changes is it puts a person kind of full-time in charge of trying to get the stadium deal through," said Victor Matheson, professor of economics at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester.
Matheson, who has been critical of public subsidies for private ballparks, points to the death of Jim Skeffington in May, which left the PawSox without a person devoted to the proposal for a waterfront ballpark in downtown Providence. Lucchino attempted to take up the mantle, but the PawSox request for $120 million in state subsidies had run into steep opposition from residents, state officials and critics, including Matheson himself.
"It’s very hard to be a full-time proponent for the PawSox and a new stadium while at the same time trying to run the Red Sox up in Boston," said Matheson.
Negotiations between state officials and the PawSox are progressing said Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist and professor at Smith College who has been working as a paid consultant for state officials.
"Our negotiations are advancing very nicely, and they're close to being finalized," said Zimbalist. "They have to be still vetted at a number of levels, but I think that the proposal we have been working on is very, very different from the initial proposal that was released by Jim Skeffington, and it's one that will be economically beneficial."
Asked whether Lucchino's change of employment status would affect his advice to state officials, Zimbalist said Lucchino still has an impressive track record of successful, urban stadium development.
"He's the fundamental architect of the new stadium model, which was to take stadiums from the suburbs and bring them back downtown," Zimbalist said. "He started that with Camden Yards in 1992 in Baltimore. He continued with Petco Park [in San Diego], and then he continued again with the renovation of Fenway Park."
All of that experience could benefit a Providence ballpark, if a deal is reached, according to Zimbalist.
"I think he's very committed to the Providence project," said Zimbalist. "The fact that he won't be as involved with the Red Sox in Boston means that he'll have more time for dealing with the design and integration of the ballpark in Providence if it does comes to pass, and that's positive."
Opponents of the plan to move the PawSox from Pawtucket to Providence have raised a number of concerns, including traffic congestion, noise and the use of land that was originally designated for a public park. Pawtucket officials and residents are also unhappy about the loss of revenue for their city.
Despite public complaints about the stadium proposal, Zimbalist believes it unlikely the team will stay in Pawtucket.
"The situation in Pawtucket is the least advantageous in Triple A Baseball, and the attendance has been dropping in Pawtucket," said Zimbalist, citing the age of McCoy Stadium and it's lack of amenities. "The situation is simply not viable for the team going forward."
But College of the Holy Cross economist Victor Matheson says there's a difference between needing a new stadium and wanting one.
"You can play a baseball game there, you can sell tickets there, and you can sell hot dogs, and of course the peanuts, popcorn and crackerjacks, which you're required to do by the song," said Matheson."Its a perfectly good ballpark. It's not as good a ballpark as someone might want, especially if that someone is going to get someone else to provide that park for them."
RIPR's Ian Donnis contributed to this report.