The February sale of the Pawtucket Red Sox came with announcements of several significant changes for the team. It was being tentatively rebranded as the Rhode Island Red Sox and ultimately relocated to downtown Providence, the purchasers said.
In April, the new owners announced their intent to construct a 10,000-seat stadium in Providence at a cost of $85 million. A site in the Jewelry District, almost directly on the river and formerly occupied by highway I-195, emerged as a favorite of the owners. The project, which they announced in April, would be completed by 2017 and receive public funding, estimated at $2 million annually.
But the possibility of the PawSox owners’ making a deal for that piece of land, of which Brown owns 2.19 acres, now appears to be dead after the University set the asking price higher than expected at $15 million.
Public opposition to a downtown stadium became vocal over the summer, making it less likely that the two chambers of the General Assembly would support a deal.
Sam Bell GS, state coordinator for the Rhode Island Progressive Democrats of America and chair of “Stop the Stadium Deal,” said the University’s stated intent to be sensitive to the public’s desires “really helped crystalize and increase the opposition to this deal.”
Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, D-Cranston, had spoken of the possibility of a special legislative session to consider the stadium proposal, but he has since come out against the proposal, the Providence Journal reported. An Aug. 6 Journal article quotes Matteillo as saying the General Assembly was “very close” to a deal with the team, after it made a second proposal over the summer. But Federal Highway Administration spokesman Doug Hecox told the Journal Aug. 27 that utilizing the parcel formerly occupied by I-195 commercially, rather than as a park, would require the state to pay back the FHA the market price of the land.
Bell also said that after canvassing Mattiello’s district, the group has “seen him really backtrack,” from supporting the deal at the outset to suggesting recently that it may be off entirely. Mattiello’s office did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
House Minority Leader Brian Newberry, R-North Smithfield and Burrillville, said Mattiello’s perceived change of heart may have come out of sensitivity to changing opinion in the legislature and general public. He said many legislators were “cautiously opposed” to the stadium deal from the outset and that the public’s opposition caused many representatives to intensify their stance.
Vice President for Communications Cass Cliatt told the Journal Sept. 3 that “if the city, state and people of Rhode Island determine that a stadium is desirable, Brown will be supportive and would be willing to sell any of our land that is needed at a fair price.” Multiple sources reported over the summer that Brown’s unofficial asking price was about $10 million. But in an August letter, Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey ’91 MA’06 set the asking price at $15 million, taking into account the $6 million spent to purchase the property and $7.5 million spent to develop it, Carey wrote. Combined with the large amount of public opposition to the previously proposed price of the PawSox stadium, adding $15 million to the sum effectively killed the deal.
Given the significant hurdles that moving the stadium to the parcel owned by the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission, Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian wrote a letter to former PawSox owner James Skeffington proposing three sites in his city where the stadium could reside, including the D’Ambra Construction property on Jefferson Boulevard, Hillsgrove South on Post Road or the site of the former Atwood Grill.
“I have yet to meet a member of the public who supports this,” Newberry said of the Providence stadium deal. “I don’t think I’ve had a single person in my district say they’re in support.”