Monday, April 27, 2015

Hooking foul

The Pawtucket Red Sox opened their season under a cloud. Fans of Pawtucket know that this is likely the second-to-last home opener at McCoy and all Rhode Islanders are hearing the clock ticking on this beloved franchise remaining in state.

When the new owners of the minor league franchise that will soon-be-formerly-known as the Pawtucket Red Sox revealed their “ask” a collective groan was heard from one end of the state to another. In exchange for locating the team in Providence and financing the stadium and a parking garage where the team will play, the team asked the state for $4 million each year for 30 years. This state lease allows the owners to get financing for construction of the project, estimated to cost $85 million. The new ownership group also released an economic development study that showed new park would generate approximately $2 million each year in new tax revenue. If the study is accurate this would make the net cost to taxpayers about $2 million each year. The General Assembly and Governor Raimondo would need to approve any deal and the new ownership made it clear that they have between now and the end of the legislative session to get it done.

In the immortal words of Swift (Taylor, not Jonathan) “haters gonna hate” so even before the specifics were revealed, naysayers were pledging to oppose any taxpayer investment in the new stadium, arguing that the 195 land was too valuable to use for a venue that will host less than 80 games a year. While discussion of alternative sites and the promise of a multi-use facility, capable of hosting Brown football and baseball games have quelled some of that debate, other concerns continue. Let’s face it, asking Rhode Island’s fragile tax base to cough up any money to support a private business owned by multimillionaires seems a bit “out of left field” for many.

I will admit I am torn: the PawSox are part of Rhode Island’s identity and a source of pride and happiness. I’ve seen great games and watched players at McCoy — and even got Jon Lester’s autograph one day when he was hanging out in the parking lot after practice. I understand why the new owners want a new park in a new city. McCoy is only vaguely charming when you are staring at the green grass — otherwise it’s like sitting in a giant cinderblock bandshell. And Pawtucket, oh Pawtucket. “Let’s grab dinner at that great restaurant next to McCoy,” said no one ever. Having a new stadium built in our capital city would make Providence and more vibrant and would add some cache to the Red Sox’ farm team too.

The bottom line is that there will be a cost to keeping the team in Rhode Island. As Rhode Islanders, we are used to making trade offs — we live here because we love the state and what it means to be from here. For some of us that means summers on the water, family close by, baseball hats filled with ice cream, a certain parade and readily available clam cakes. The price we pay: cold winters, higher taxes and a lot of potholes. While it’s unlikely that the cost of keeping the team here will be low enough to make every taxpayer happy, I am hoping that a agreement can be made that doesn’t violate our collective sense of fairness. Right now, the plan is hooking foul.

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