Rhode Island FC, the planned men’s professional soccer team, says it’ll still kick off in 2024, but is looking at venue options as questions swirl about the money for its stadium in Pawtucket.
“Let me be clear and unequivocal: Rhode Island FC is playing soccer in Rhode Island in 2024,” team president Brett Luy said in an email to season ticket deposit holders Sunday. “And not only that, Rhode Island FC is going to compete for trophies in 2024.”
The team’s owners were originally aiming to open the Tidewater Landing stadium, on the banks of the Seekonk River, in time for the spring start of the 2024 USL Championship season, though they’d acknowledged it was possible the stadium might not open in time. Now, after delays in public financing for the $124 million stadium, the team is making preparations for that possibility.
“Our leadership team is evaluating all venue options while the construction of the stadium at Tidewater Landing progresses,” Luy said.
In addition to hiring Luy, the team has announced hiring other front office staff, including head coach and general manager Khano Smith. Luy told season-ticket deposit holders that once next year’s venue is finalized, “we will announce plans and policies for how you can convert your deposit to season tickets for our historic inaugural season.”
Like other supporters, Luy projected confidence in the work going on behind the scenes to build a team in Rhode Island FC. But the project to build that team the stadium now faces uncertainties amid rising interest rates and a looming banking crisis. It is not the only project to face such headwinds, although it’s one of the higher-profile ones and politically controversial.
Last summer the state Commerce Corporation voted to back $27 million in bonds for the stadium and tapped the city of Pawtucket’s redevelopment agency to issue them. That still hasn’t happened because, according to the city, it has not made fiscal sense to close on the state financing or the private debt. City officials had originally said the bonds would go out months ago.
Governor Dan McKee said Thursday he was still optimistic the project would happen. He cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the public funding for the project at the Commerce Corporation. The $124 million stadium would be supported by $45.5 million in city and state financing. Opponents of the project now say the sorts of economic headwinds that have made it impossible to issue the $27 million in bonds were entirely predictable. Supporters say they’re committed to the entire project, which would include housing, commercial, and retail development in later phases.
Work is already underway on the foundation for the stadium site, funded by private investments; public money hasn’t flowed to the project yet, according to both the team and the state. But team owner Brett Johnson was also raising money for the stadium in February – in a “perpetual investor raise,” like any startup, the team’s spokesman said.