Snow lines the banks of most roadways in New England, but pitchers and catchers are now in Florida. How far away can Spring really be? Only a few weeks, and while most baseball fans will be consumed by reports out of Spring Training, there are those in Rhode Island who are awaiting a definitive answer about the long-term prospects of the Red Sox Triple A affiliate remaining in Rhode Island.
With the Pawtucket Red Sox lease at McCoy Stadium expiring after the 2020 season, the team, along with the state and city, have been looking at the feasibility of either renovating McCoy Stadium or tearing it down and building anew. According to a study by Pendulum Studio II LLC of Kansas City the price tag to remain at the McCoy location is about $68 million to renovate the facility, and $78 million to demolish and replace the 75-year-old stadium. Pendulum was only contracted to determine conditions at McCoy, and did not consider other alternatives.
While initial reaction from PawSox and Red Sox officials has basically ruled out remaining at the McCoy site, they have also reportedly confirmed a commitment to remain in Rhode Island and Pawtucket.
“Every intention of this group is to keep this team in Rhode Island and keep it in Pawtucket, Rhode Island and find a solution that works,” said Dan Rea, the PawSox senior vice president and general manager at a recent corporate luncheon held at McCoy Stadium.
The prospects of moving the team out of McCoy arose when a 10 – member group, led by Larry Luchinno, who was president and CEO of the Boston Red Sox, and James J. Skeffington, a Rhode Island lawyer, bought the team in February 2015 from long-time owners Madeleine Mondor, widow of the late Ben Mondor; Michael Tamburro; and Ludwig Schwechheimer.
The other members of the new ownership group were identified as Bernard Cammarata, chairman of TJX Companies; William Egan, founder and general partner of Alta Communications and Marion Equity Partners; Fenway Sports Management, described as a sister company of the Boston Red Sox and wholly-owned subsidiary of Fenway Sports Group; Habib Y. Gorgi, managing director, Nautic Partners LLC; J. Terrence Murray, former chairman, president and CEO of Fleet National Bank; and Arthur E. Nicholas and Frank M. Resnek, partners, Boston Red Sox; and Thomas M. Ryan, former chairman, president and CEO of CVS.
That ownership group had asked the state for $120 million in subsidies, plus free land on the former I-195 property. The proposal was rejected by Gov. Raimondo and was met with stiff opposition. The group had indicated that if it was unable to build in Providence, with substantial government subsidies, it would seriously consider moving out of Rhode Island.
Skeffington, who was the lead proponent of the move to Providence, suddenly died only a few months into the project. The ownership group eventually chose to abandon the Providence plan, and consider the feasibility of renovations to McCoy Stadium, eventually culminating in the report from Pendulum.
Meanwhile, there was considerable tension between the team and its fans and city officials. The team then made great efforts to repair relationships, which both city and team officials now proclaim as successful. Attendance, however, has continued to decline. Last year, attendance was 407,097, 10th among the 14 International League teams. In 2005, the PawSox were first in attendance at 688,421.
PawSox President Dr. Charles A. Steinberg has attributed at least some of the decline to conditions at the stadium, noting that newer facilities have considerably more amenities for fans.
A move to a new location in Pawtucket could create what John Gregory, president of the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, calls a “total experience.”
The Apex site, he said, would be visible from the highway, would be close to a downtown that’s experiencing a revival and that would also benefit from the stadium, and would be within a mile of a train station that is planned for Pawtucket/Central Falls.
Kennedy and other Red Sox officials hope a new stadium is similar to Fenway Park, making the transition for players moving to the Red Sox easier.
While the governor has indicated the state may be willing to provide some financial support, Gregory said “I don’t think there’s a big appetite from the state or the city to make a big investment.” However, he said, if the stadium provides a “total experience,” he believes the ownership might be willing to invest more.