Pawtucket Red Sox president James Skeffington, part of a 10-member group that purchased the team in February with plans to build a new stadium in Providence, died of a heart attack Sunday night while jogging near his Barrington, R.I., home. He was 73.
Skeffington was a noted attorney in Rhode Island who previously served as the Boston Red Sox's lead counsel on real estate development projects, including JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Fla., where the major league club plays spring training games.
His death stunned fellow PawSox owners and has, for the moment, taken their attention off negotiations with public officials over financing for an $85 million ballpark in the state capital. Skeffington had been heading those discussions and trying to move quickly, needing approval by the Rhode Island General Assembly before next month's legislative recess to ensure completion of the 10,000-seat facility in time for the 2017 season.
PawSox spokeswoman Patti Doyle said Skeffington's partners were still absorbing the news and had made no decisions about who will lead the club and represent it in stadium talks.
"Jim was an extremely loyal and charitable man who, in his all-too-brief time with the PawSox, relished his new role as club president," the team said in a statement. "He enjoyed learning all he could about the PawSox operation and meeting fans, staff, and players. Jim was committed to keeping the PawSox in Rhode Island and sharing his vision for a new ballpark."
Nicholas Mattiello, speaker of the Rhode Island House, said in a statement that Skeffington's death cast some uncertainty over negotiations.
"Obviously, with the tragic passing of Jim Skeffington, the dynamic has changed," Mattiello said. "We'll have to see if the owners of the team want to continue to keep the PawSox in Rhode Island the way that Jim did."
Skeffington's best-known partner in the PawSox purchase was Red Sox president Larry Lucchino, who also has participated in meetings with Rhode Island officials in recent weeks. In a lengthy statement, however, Lucchino didn't mention the stadium project, focusing only on the loss of "Skeff," whom he called a "much-loved friend."
"I could always rely on his candor, camaraderie, and compassion," Lucchino said. "He may have been the most generous person I have ever known."
Skeffington's son, James Skeffington Jr., said in a statement that his family has been "overwhelmed by the kind thoughts and messages from so many friends."
The PawSox are the Red Sox's Triple-A affiliate but are independently owned. Skeffington, Lucchino, and eight others paid more than $20 million to buy out the widow of longtime PawSox owner Ben Mondor.
Skeffington had been working to finalize a revised stadium financing plan to replace the PawSox's original proposal, laid out last month, which called for $120 million in state subsidies to be spread over three decades, plus a 30-year property tax exemption from the City of Providence.
Targeting a site along the Providence River which straddles land owned by the state and Brown University, the team also proposed leasing the two parcels for $1 apiece annually.
Governor Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island quickly rejected the plan, saying it "isn't fair for Rhode Islanders," despite the team's pledge to bear the upfront construction costs and all operational expenses.
Skeffington had said the PawSox, which would be renamed the Rhode Island Red Sox upon a move to Providence, would be willing to buy the land instead but had not revealed other changes to the financing plan. "We were working hard on an alternate proposal, getting ready to present that," Doyle said.
The PawSox's new owners have maintained from the outset that the club's long-term viability hinges on moving out of McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, which opened in 1942, and relocating to a modern facility in an urban center.
Pawtucket officials have pushed back, suggesting McCoy simply needs renovations. Ruth McCoy, 89, whose late husband, Billy, was a nephew of the old park's namesake, Thomas P. McCoy, told the Providence Journal in a story published on Sunday that leaving Pawtucket would be "a crime."
Also Sunday, the PawSox released the results of a feasibility study that concluded that renovations to McCoy Stadium would cost $65.8 million, $19.2 million less than a new ballpark in Providence.
The team's lease of McCoy Stadium from the state runs through 2021 but, at only $34,000 per year, it is not considered a major obstacle in negotiations.
In a ceremony unveiling renderings of a new ballpark last month, Skeffington raised the possibility that the team would have to look outside the state if it could not reach a deal on a stadium in Providence.
"There are a lot of communities that would love to have a team with the Red Sox's Triple-A status," he said. "Our objective is to keep it in Rhode Island."