It remains unclear if the Pawtucket Red Sox will support the revised stadium plan unveiled this week by House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello.
A handful of PawSox representatives attended, but did not testify, during a Thursday night hearing of the House Finance Committee at the Statehouse.
Speaking afterward, PawSox President Charles Steinberg was non-committal on the team's stance. "We’re not going to have any comment yet until after we read and study the material," Steinberg told RIPR. "I thought it was rewarding and gratifying to hear so many heartfelt sentiments that people expressed about the role of baseball in the community. That’s as far as we’ll go."
Steinberg declined to specify an amount of time needed by the team to digest the revised stadium proposal.
Mattiello's approach shifts responsibility for backstopping borrowing for stadium costs from state taxpayers to the Pawtucket Redevelopment Authority.
During the Finance hearing, Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council executive director John Simmons said that that approach would decrease risk for the state, while potentially increasing annual borrowing costs for the stadium from $300,000 to $800,00, over 30 years.
House Fiscal Analyst Sharon Reynolds Ferland told the Finance Committee that Mattiello's proposal would use special revenue bonds, secured only by the identified revenue stream, to pay for borrowing for the stadium. If revenues are not enough to pay back the bonds, she said, the issuer has no further obligation to pay the bonds.
Rhode Island Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor said the speaker's approach represents a promising framework for the envisioned $83 million PawSox stadium on the Apex site, near Slater Mill, in downtown Pawtucket. But Pryor said the concept needs to be fleshed out and more questions answered about financing.
A few speakers during the hearing pointed to questions about the super tax incremental district that would be used to collect tax revenue to pay back bonds issued to finance the stadium, and whether the district might grow larger to capture more revenue.
Steven Frias, who lost a state rep race to Mattiello by 85 votes in 2016, returned to the Statehouse to argue against the stadium plan. He said it should be decided by a statewide vote. (Earlier, Frias hinted that he will seek a rematch this year against Mattiello.)
“Two-thirds of the people I talk to do not want it," Frias said. "They do not want to have a new taxpayer-funded stadium. I just ask people, I say, 'hey this is what is going on, would you sign the petition' and they say, 'yes.' Let the voters decide.”
But stadium supporters, including members of organized labor and Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien, called the stadium a crucial chance to improve Pawtucket's economy, attract tourists, and offer low-cost entertainment for Rhode Island families.