Opponents of a new Pawtucket Red Sox stadium in Providence say they have gathered enough signatures to ask the City Council to effectively block the proposal. They plan to pursue that approach when the council returns from its August recess next month.
Sam Bell, state coordinator of the Progressive Democrats of Rhode Island and a vocal critic of the stadium proposal, said Tuesday that opponents have gathered about 1300 petition signatures; 1,000 signatures are needed to bring an ordinance to the City Council.
When the council returns in September from its break, Bell said, "We will file the voter initiative and work with the council to pass the ordinance. What the ordinance does, it prevents the stadium from being built on parcel P-4, the site of the planned Providence central park. And it also prevents the city from using any city money to subsidize it, including [the] drawing [of] a property tax exemption."
The council's next meeting is scheduled for September 3. It remains unclear if the ordinance backed by Bell would have the intended effect of blocking a stadium.
"It may be possible that the state does this on their own -- imposes the deal on the City of Providence," said City Council President Luis Aponte. "I'm not sure how all of that would work, but I am interested in pursuing the conversation and understanding what it's opportunities and limitations may be."
Aponte said the I-195 District Commission has jurisdiction over development on the land made available by the relocation of I-195. "But it's important to note that the 195 Commission at some point will cease to exist -- I believe it has another 15 years of legislative life," he added. "At the end of that, all of that property reverts back to the city, so any deal beyond 15 or 16 years would require the city's involvement. Having said that, it's important that any agreement include the City of Providence early on as part of the discussions and negotiations if there is to be a deal that brings a stadium to the city and that site."
If the City Council doesn't pass the anti-stadium ordinance, Bell said, opponents plan to gather enough signatures to put the question on the city ballot. "It's a fairly easy number to collect," he said, "because the people of Providence are very angry about this issue, and I can tell you it hasn't been difficult to collect signatures."
The state and the ownership group brought that bought the PawSox in February are continuing talks about a revised deal for a Providence stadium.
House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has expressed hope that an agreement is getting closer, although the Raimondo administration has tamped down expectations of an imminent deal, asserting that the process includes a series of unresolved issues.
The PawSox' initial request for $120 million in public subsidies over 30 years, and an exemption on Providence property taxes, sparked a broadly negative reaction. Governor Gina Raimondo then publicly called for a better deal.
Beyond the issue of a public subsidy, some opponents believe a ballpark is ill-suited for part of the land made available for redevelopment by the relocation of I-195, while others want the PawSox to remain at the team's current home of McCoy Stadium. Supporters of the stadium idea say it would stimulate economic activity in Providence and mark a new attraction for the city.
Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza has said his administration is trying to ensure the city's financial needs are taken into account in any agreement for a stadium.
PawSox spokeswoman Patti Doyle said the team is "actively working with the state on a renegotiated agreement that we hope will be shared publicly very soon. We certainly respect all forms of conversation and dialogue on this issue, but remain focused on relocating the team to a new urban ballpark on lands within the I-195 District Commission in Providence."
Aponte said he opposed the initial plan as too costly, but remains open to a stadium that generates some revenue for the city.
Bell has pursued the petition effort with other ballpark opponents, including Sharon Steele, in an effort that has unified liberals and conservatives.
Bell believes a majority of the Providence City Council is opposed to the stadium. Aponte said he believes most councilors want to see a more equitable proposal than the first one "and perhaps have not ruled out the possibility of [a stadium] being on that site."
According to Bell, "There are some [council] members who take a somewhat nuanced position. I know there's a concern in Providence about the state riding over the city, and a number of City Council members view that as a primary concern. So they want to ensure that we structure anything that we do in the city to eliminate or minimize the risk of the state riding over the city."
This post has been updated.