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New PawSox owners unveil plans for Providence ballpark

A rendering of an aerial view looking north of the proposed new ballpark in downtown Providence.DAIQ and Populous

PROVIDENCE — The Pawtucket Red Sox' new ownership group on Wednesday unveiled plans for an $85 million stadium in downtown Providence that it is billing as an economic engine and a catalyst of further development in the city.

Built along the Providence River on a combination of public land and Brown University property, the 10,000-seat ballpark could host college football, soccer, lacrosse, and hockey games, as well as outdoor concerts in summer when the Boston Red Sox' Triple-A affiliate does not have a home game.

But the plan relies on more than $4 million in state and city subsidies to help recoup the costs of building and operating the stadium, stirring the possibility of taxpayer controversy.


Team president Jim Skeffington said in a briefing at the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce Wednesday that the stadium, targeted for 2017, could spur construction of a nearby hotel or even a biomedical industrial park that public officials have long envisioned for the neighborhood.

"We think it's a game changer," said Skeffington, a prominent Rhode Island attorney who led the club's $20 million purchase in February by a group of 10 investors, including Red Sox president Larry Lucchino. "We think it'll produce jobs. We think it'll attract private capital."

The ballpark would feature a red brick facade, a lighthouse beyond center field, and sweeping views of the river and downtown skyline. The price is only slightly higher than the $80 million spent in 2008 to renovate the Dunkin' Donuts Center, home of the Providence Bruins.

Club owners said they would pay the full upfront cost of the ballpark project, which also features a 750-car garage that would charge $3 for parking on game days, and would cover all operating expenses.

The team would own the stadium, but not the ground on which it would be built. Skeffington proposed paying Brown and the state $1 apiece annually for use of the land. Brown's president, Christina Paxson, has endorsed the concept of a stadium project but declined through a spokeswoman to take a position on the PawSox's financing plan.


A view of Home Plate Plaza looking north on Dyer Street.DAIQ and Populos

Over time, the PawSox are looking for other financial assistance from the state and the city of Providence.

Under a special real estate arrangement used for some other sporting venues — including 10,000-seat McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, where the PawSox currently play — team owners would lease the new ballpark to the state, which then would lease it back to the team. The net result of this back and forth would be $4 million in annual payments from the state to the PawSox over 30 years. Skeffington said the deal would essentially be a state subsidy.

From the city, the club is seeking a 30-year property tax exemption.

Such intricate transactions are not uncommon, said Victor Matheson, a sports economist at the College of the Holy Cross who has studied stadium financing.

"But this is a huge taxpayer giveaway, plain and simple," he added. "It's hardly a privately financed stadium when you're extracting huge tax subsidies."

Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist at Smith College, countered that the cultural significance of bringing the PawSox to Providence could justify some public spending.

"I think this is a tremendous opportunity for the city and the state," he said.

State and city officials neither backed nor opposed the PawSox' proposal Wednesday, saying they would need time to review it carefully.


"The idea of a stadium in downtown Providence that can be used for multiple purposes is exciting," Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo said in a statement. "That said, my top priority is getting Rhode Islanders back to work, and we have very limited resources to invest in economic growth — especially in the face of a large structural deficit."

A view from Riverwalk looking south at the proposed new ballpark in downtown Providence.DAIQ and Populos

Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza was also noncommittal, saying his administration would study a new stadium's impact on the economy, environment, and traffic.

"The prospect of keeping the Red Sox' Triple-A team in Rhode Island represents a significant and exciting development opportunity for our city and state," Elorza said. "We have coordinated to develop guidelines that ensure a thorough analysis of the stadium proposal."

Skeffington argued that spending in and around the ballpark would partly offset spending by state and city governments. An economic-impact study commissioned by the team estimated sales, income, hotel, and other taxes related to the stadium would yield about $2 million per year for the state and $170,000 for the city.

The study also projected ballpark patrons would pump $12.3 million into the local economy each year, though much of that money would be spent within the park.

Skeffington said he's hoping to reach a deal with public officials by the end of the legislative session in June. Otherwise, "we'll have to look at other alternatives," he said.

At least one other New England city has expressed interest in becoming the PawSox' new home. Last month, the Worcester City Council ordered City Manager Ed Augustus to study the feasibility of luring the team to that city.


John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, a government watchdog, said the PawSox' proposal will probably elicit mixed feelings among fans.

On one hand, "I think it would be a big blow to the ego of the state to lose the PawSox," he said. "They're a point of pride."

On the other hand, he said, "the owners' strategy is similar to what happens in a lot of places where teams try to hold cities hostage."

A view from the Providence River looking west to the right field plaza of the proposed new park.DAIQ and Populos

Callun Borchers can be reached at callum.borchers@globe.com.