Gov. Dan McKee cast the deciding vote Monday when the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation approved a revised public financing plan for a soccer stadium in Pawtucket, as debate continued about the merits of the Tidewater Landing development.

The Commerce Corporation vote shifts $36 million in public financing towards building the soccer stadium, spending that was originally allocated for housing and other parts of Tidewater Landing.

Supporters like McKee say the development will be an economic game-changer for Pawtucket, which lost the PawSox, the Red Sox’ top minor league team, a few years ago.

In a joint statement with Pawtucket Mayor Don Grenbien and developer Brett Johnson of Fortuitous Partners, McKee said, “A multi-use stadium will be the anchor of the development which will include housing, restaurants, retail stores, and recreational amenities. Rhode Islanders and visitors will be able to attend a soccer game or a concert, enjoy the Riverwalk, grab a bite, or call Tidewater Landing home. This world-class destination on Pawtucket’s riverfront will support thousands of jobs and create millions of dollars of tax revenue.”

Groundbreaking at the site has been scheduled for Aug. 12.

But two Commerce Corporation board members abstained from the vote. And critics like Republican candidate for governor Ashley Kalus say public support for Tidewater Landing is corporate welfare that can be better spent on needs like affordable housing and universal pre-K.

“Despite Rhode Islanders getting crushed by inflation and our country heading toward a recession, Dan McKee is determined to give out more goodies than a McDonald’s drive-thru," she said. "Rather than providing relief to families in need, the McKee Administration seems more concerned with doling out taxpayer dollars to insiders."

Separately, RI GOP National Committeeman Steve Frias said, “If this PawSoccer stadium gets built, it will turn into a historic debacle for taxpayers. As has been shown repeatedly by economists, sports stadiums don’t pay for themselves. Taxpayer subsidies for sports stadiums are the epitome of corporate welfare. There are much better uses of taxpayer money than this stadium.”

Other critics expressed concern that focusing financing on the stadium could jeopardize the housing element of the development. The project has been scaled back due to pandemic-related economic fallout since it was first proposed in 2019.

In one of a series of statements, one of McKee’s rival Democrats, Helena Buonanno Foulkes said, “This project deserves to be much bigger than an isolated stadium. I’m not confident that Governor McKee explored all options for private funding that could have kept the entire project intact today. While I wish they went further, I’m glad to see enhanced taxpayer protections in this deal. As governor, I will do everything in my power to ensure that Pawtucket benefits from the full proposed development -- housing, restaurants, riverwalk and all.”

Another Democratic candidate for governor, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, said she would have voted against the financing backed by McKee.

“Rhode Island has to stop taking a ‘chase the shiny object’ approach to economic development,” Gorbea said. “I am not opposed to the stadium but I would have voted no to this deal as drafted. This was another failure of leadership by the McKee administration. If I had been governor, this is not the proposal we would have voted on. I would have brought multiple parties together to decide how to best use tax dollars to create vibrant, thriving, economic development for the City of Pawtucket and surrounding areas.”

When Tidewater Landing was unveiled in December 2019, it was billed as the biggest development in Pawtucket history. The size of the project has been significantly cut back since then due to economic fallout from the pandemic.

With less than eight weeks until Rhode Island’s Sept. 13 primary, McKee remains locked in a tight race with Buonanno Foulkes and Gorbea, and he needs to perform well in the Blackstone Valley to retain the governor’s office.

Two other Democratic candidates for governor also commented.

“Agreeing to shift funding towards a soccer stadium, a niche product, has placed us on a path towards ‘38 studios 2.0,’ ” said community activist Luis Daniel Muñoz, referring to the state’s ill-fated investment in former Red Sox star Curt Schilling’s video game company. “HOPING that people will fill the stadium is not an evidence-based approach to economic development.”

Community activist Matt Brown noted how developer Brett Johnson and four lobbyists hired by his firm have made campaign contributions to McKee, adding up to almost $8,000, although he also characterized them as “mega-donors to Governor McKee’s campaign.”

Ian Donnis can be reached at