PAWTUCKET, R.I. — State and city officials on Monday announced a $400 million project that would put a 7,500-seat professional soccer stadium, an indoor sports center, and a 200-room hotel on three sites in downtown Pawtucket.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo and Mayor Donald R. Grebien joined Fortuitous Partners in announcing the Tidewater Landing project, calling it the largest economic development project in the Rhode Island city’s history. Officials said the project would create 2,500 direct and indirect construction jobs, plus 1,200 direct jobs once completed.
“Here, we have an opportunity of a lifetime,” Grebien said.
The announcement came exactly one week after the Pawtucket Red Sox announced that the Triple-A baseball team will be known as the WooSox when it moves to Worcester for the start of the 2021 season.
“The PawSox play a valuable role in this community. We have them in our fabric, so it’s a loss,” Grebien said. “But when you look at the substantial development — not comparing [United Soccer League] to baseball, but the development itself — absolutely, the city is in a much better position today.”
State Secretary of Commerce Stefan Pryor said the project involves seven times more private investment than a failed proposal to keep the PawSox in Rhode Island.
“The proposed set of assets that will be produced — the physical developments, the mix of uses — are far superior to what the PawSox were proposing,” Pryor said. “Beyond the boundaries of this development — the proposal on these three sites — we believe there will be a catalytic effect that far exceeds what the PawSox would have yielded.”
The project will require $70 million to $90 million in public investment, mostly by the state. It relies on a newly approved tax-increment financing tool and federal Opportunity Zone tax incentives, which have stirred controversy on the national level. No public votes are anticipated, and no General Assembly approval is needed.
The Tidewater site, on the west bank of the Seekonk River and west of Interstate 95, would hold a stadium for a soccer team that would compete in the United Soccer League Championship — the second tier of US professional soccer. The “placeholder” name for the team is the Riptide. The team would begin playing in 2022.
About 200 people crowded into the Blackstone Valley Tourism Center for the Tidewater Landing announcement. Students from Tolman and Shea high schools raised their hands when Raimondo asked if anyone watched soccer.
Rhode Island is in the top 10 markets for televised soccer in the United States, and soccer viewership is on the rise, she said.
“Rhode island is the best market in the country without a professional soccer team,” said Brett M. Johnson, founder and partner of Fortuitous Partners and cochair of the Phoenix Rising Football Club.
Pryor said Pawtucket is where the US Open Cup, the national championship in soccer, began more than a century ago. On Lonsdale Avenue, where there’s now a Price Rite store, there was Coates Field.
The soccer tournament was held there in 1913, before thousands of spectators. Pryor read from an article in the Pawtucket Times: “Every vantage point was filled with humanity. Spectators thronged seven and eight deep.”
Pryor added, “I think that’s the kind of excitement we’re creating again. Soccer is returning to its rightful home.”
The Tidewater site, once home to a National Grid gas plant, also would include a riverside park, restaurants, and retail stores.
The Division Street site, on the east bank of the Seekonk River, would include food and beverage establishments, residences, a riverside park, and a pedestrian bridge.
Pryor said officials have been having “positive, constructive” conversations with the owners of the Apex site and hope they won’t have to use eminent domain powers. “We would resort to eminent domain only as a last resort,” he said.
Pryor said the state and city funds would be used to pay for infrastructure such as parking, the pedestrian bridge, and parks. He said Fortuitous Partners would finance the stadium privately.
The public funds would be derived through the tax-increment financing tool approved by the General Assembly in June. Tax revenue emanating from the new development would be used for the project, Pryor said.
Based on preliminary estimates over a 30-year financing period, the project is expected to pay for itself, Pryor said. He said tax revenue received by the state and city over those three decades could be double the public investment in the project.
The public investment of $70 million to $90 million would represent 20 percent of the project’s cost, Pryor said. The state would provide $60 million to $80 million of that total.
In Washington, Democrats have questioned the Opportunity Zone program, which is meant to encourage investment in poor neighborhoods. The New York Times has reported that wealthy investors and developers, including some with ties to the Trump administration, are poised to profit from the program.
Grebien said that while there might be controversy about the program, it’s helping Pawtucket.
“From the City of Pawtucket’s perspective, without those types of opportunity zones and the [tax-increment financing] district legislation, we would be sitting here as we have for the last twentysomething years in Pawtucket without these types of developments,” Grebien said.
Pryor said the Opportunity Zone program can be improved. But, he said, “Our mission is to utilize every tool available to us to advance the Rhode Island economy. In this particular case, we are able to bring substantial private investment to a city that deserves it — Pawtucket.”
Grebien said no decision has been made about what to do with McCoy Stadium after the PawSox leave. He said the options include a Single-A baseball team, an independent league baseball team, or some municipal purpose.
Grebien said he called PawSox chairman Larry Lucchino and president Charles Steinberg to congratulate them on the WooSox announcment.
“I have had to digest that,” Grebien said. “It’s not where anybody wanted to be. But as we look at this, we wish them well, and we are going to move forward — in some ways, in a lot better ways.”