Ruggerio Hopes For PawSox Stadium Vote In November

Aug 29, 2017

Ruggerio during his swearing-in earlier this year.
Credit Ian Donnis/File Photo / RIPR

Rhode Island Senate President Dominick Ruggerio hopes the PawSox' proposal for a new Pawtucket stadium will get a General Assembly vote in November.

Ruggerio said the timing of a vote depends on his conversations with House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello.

During an interview Tuesday with Rhode Island Public Radio, Ruggerio added, "Personally, I feel that if everything goes the way I anticipate it to go, we could do something in November. I know that's time-sensitive for the Pawtucket Red Sox as far as getting out of the current facility that they're in, but I think that's something that's doable this year."

The Senate released plans Monday for a schedule of six Finance Committee hearings around the state on the PawSox' proposal for a $73 million stadium at the Apex site in Pawtucket. Mattiello said Monday that the House Finance Committee will also hold a hearing on the plan in the near future.

Asked for comment, Mattiello said it is "premature" to talk about timing for a vote on the stadium proposal.

“The House Finance Committee will be holding a hearing on the PawSox’ proposal in the near future," Mattiello said in a statement. "We will listen to the testimony and let the committee process take its natural course. It is premature for me to take a position until after the hearing. I will listen to the testimony and the will of the people will help me to determine any possible action.”

Asked why he backs a vote in November, rather than waiting until after the start of the next legislative session in January, Ruggerio said, "I think it helps the Pawtucket Red Sox as far as knowing where they're going and starting to get things underway -- the proposal and the construction of the stadium and whatever they have to do as far as land acquisition. So I think the sooner, the better, but we certainly don't want to rush and we're certainly looking for a lot of public comment on the issue."

In addition to planning hearings, the Senate has created a web site where information is available about the PawSox proposal and where interested parties can offer comment.

The PawSox' proposal relies in part on borrowing about $38 million from the state and the City of Pawtucket. Critics call that an audacious ask for an ownership group comprised of wealthy individuals, while supporters say the stadium would spur additional development in Pawtucket and more than pay for itself over 30 years.

Criticism of the proposal led lawmakers to view the plan warily when it was unveiled in May. One week later, Ruggerio was the one who signaled the stadium quest was DOA in the General Assembly's 2017 session, saying there wasn't adequate time to vet the plan.

Asked if the stadium is a now virtual done deal, now that Mattiello has signaled his support for a Finance Committee hearing, Ruggerio said, "I wouldn't say that. I certainly don't want to speak for the speaker of the House, Nicholas Mattiello. We had conversations on this issue, and we're going to see what the hearings provide .... There's an interest in both chambers regarding this particular proposal."

Ruggerio said he's not concerned about the possibility of the PawSox going to Worcester despite expressions of interest by officials in the second-largest city in Massachusetts.

"I haven't seen a proposal in Worcester," Ruggerio said.  ".... I think the State of Massachusetts is reluctant to provide any kind of subsidy to Worcester for attracting the PawSox. I just think they would like to stay in Rhode Island and I'm hopeful we can make that happen."

Regarding the critics who say the PawSox ownership shouldn't need to borrow millions in public dollars, Ruggerio said, "I think if you look at stadiums throughout the country, public money is involved, probably with the exception of Massachusetts when they built Gillette Stadium. All over the country, from what I've seen, there's always some type of public subsidy involved there."

The Senate president called the PawSox stadium plan "a good proposal on behalf of the state and on behalf of the City of Pawtucket. You know what, we'll get criticized for anything. We'll get criticized whether it goes. We'll get criticized if they leave, but I think the Pawtucket Red Sox, under Ben Mondor, they became a fabric of the community in Rhode Island and I would hate to see them leave."

This post has been updated.