Boston Red Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino, a managing partner of the Pawtucket Red Sox, was in Rhode Island to speak with the 195 District Commission Monday about the PawSox's proposal for a new stadium in ballpark. Lucchino sat down with me ahead of the commission's meeting to discuss the proposal.
(Commissioners asked some skeptical questions of Lucchino and co-owner Jim Skeffington. State officials said the conversation will continue with the PawSox owners.“The important question to ask is whether there might be an alternative financi al arrangement that might be more fair and might enable taxpayers to feel less of the burden,” Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor told reporters after the meeting.
At about the same time, Governor Gina Raimondo released a statement reasserting her hope that the PawSox will stay in Providence. "From what I understand of the owners' initial proposal," Raimondo added. "it appears that Rhode Island taxpayers would pay most, if not all of the cost of building the new stadium, yet the owners would stand to receive all of the profits. That isn't fair for Rhode Islanders." She said talks will continue in search of a proposal that benefits the state.)
While you should listen to the full interview with Lucchino (edited and condensed for length and clarity), here's a look at some key points:
1. While critics have seized on the sheer size of the PawSox' requested $120 million in taxpayer-backed lease payments over 30 years (and an exemption from Providence property taxes), Lucchino said this isn't an accurate way of considering the team's proposal. "That's not the way I think it's fair to look at it ..... he said during an interview in the 28th floor law office of PawSox partner Jim Skeffington at One Financial Plaza. "When you're calculating the net public investment in this project, what do you do with all of the tax revenues that are generated from and around this ballpark -- the sales taxes, the hotel occupancy taxes, the other kind of tax benefits that flow to the state. Should those properly be included in the list of civic benefits? We would submit that they should be, because if there is no ballpark in Rhode Island, those tax benefits are going with the wind."
2. Over the weekend, Governor Gina Raimondo signaled through her chief of staff, Stephen Neuman, that the state sees the PawSox' proposal as unfair, since taxpayers would pay much of the costs while not enjoying any of the profits. According to Lucchino, the PawSox' envisioned $70 million ballpark on the Providence River "is a project that has demonstrable and substantial public benefits. Many cities across America have decided that those public benefits to the city -- be they economic or psychic or developmental -- that those benefits are worth some kind of net public investment." Lucchino calls the PawSox' envisioned baseball stadium "unique" since it will be designed to accommodate activities including football and concerts. "It will create an abundance of economic activity around the ballpark," he said.
3. The PawSox are willing to talk -- to a point. "We are prepared to adjust, amend, negotiate our proposal," Lucchino said. He likened the discussion of the team's proposal to the early innings of a nine-inning game.
4. With the team indicating a willingness over the weekend to possibly buy the land for the PawSox ballpark, Lucchino declined to answer whether the team would be willing to pay market rate: "That's a discussion that should take place between the appropriate parties, including the I-195 Commission and the PawSox."
5. Asked whether other locations in Providence are under consideration for a ballpark, Lucchino said, "We're not looking at others now. We did look around, but when we saw this one, we kind of fell in love with it." Lucchino declined, however, to rule out the consideration of other sites in Providence.
6. Regarding the ownership group's unwillingness to make public certain information -- such as when the team might break even on its Providence proposal, Lucchino said, "I don't think the kind of disclosure you're talking about has been the case over the years. I just think it's too soon to say what we would be asked to do and how we would react."
7. Lucchino declined to identify a drop-dead point at which the PawSox would leave Rhode Island, but the team wants the state to move ahead in a speedy fashion. "We want this to work," Lucchino said. "We have a commitment to Rhode Island. Many of our partners have spent their entire lives in Rhode Island .... We are not going to talk about going to any other place until the people and the elected officials of Rhode Island have told us they think this thing will work or will not work." Yet when asked if the team will continue talks past its deadline for legislative action in the current General Assembly session, Lucchino said, "We'd like to see this thing move through expeditiously." He said the PawSox require certainty as a business and said the age of McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket justifies a rapid response.