opinion Newport Rhode Island

The following Op-Ed was written and submitted by Elizabeth A. Crowley, a Democratic State Senator representing District 16 (which includes Central Falls and a portion of Pawtucket) and Donna M. Nesselbush, a Democratic State Senator representing District 15 (which includes portions of Pawtucket and North Providence). The views and opinions expressed within are not necessarily those of What’sUpNewp, it’s contributors, advertisers or supporters. To submit an op-ed or letter to the editor, email Ryan@whatsupnewp.com.

The American Industrial Revolution was launched at Slater Mill in Pawtucket. Today we have a similarly historic opportunity to invigorate economic growth in our city, via a new ballpark proposed right near the historic factory. An influx of artists and microbreweries have contributed to the city’s economic momentum in recent years, and we think “The Ballpark at Slater Mill” would synergistically help fuel Pawtucket’s ongoing revitalization.

Though neither of us is a member of the Senate Finance Committee, we both participated in the hearing process, carefully listening to and reviewing key testimony. There are risks and benefits to any proposal, but on balance, we believe the evidence points to this being a good deal for taxpayers.

According to most experts who opined, public investment in the ballpark would be revenue neutral (or positive), meaning that the public investment would be completely recouped through various taxes paid by the PawSox or those attending the games and using the ancillary restaurants and businesses. The proposal is designed to pay for itself. Even under the most conservative estimates, the state would gain more in tax revenue directly from the Pawtucket Red Sox than it would expend in debt service. In other words, if the state were to forego this opportunity and the team were to leave, the state would have lesstax revenue to fix our roads and school buildings. That’s why we believe the proposal is a net gain for taxpayers.

Vigorous debate is a hallmark of democracy, and it has indeed served to improve the proposal. One of our Senate colleagues recently raised some issues, and we want to address some misperceptions cited by him and opponents, in general, of the proposal.

We all love Pawtucket and Ben Mondor. Mr. Mondor’s story tells of the International League’s commitment to its team here in Pawtucket. He was chosen by the League to revitalize a flagging Pawtucket franchise, ensuring that no International League team would go defunct.

It was suggested that Mr. Mondor would have sought a different path than what is currently being proposed. But this ignores the fact that he secured a similar partnership at McCoy some 75 years ago. McCoy Stadium, current home to the PawSox, is a public park. The key difference as we seek to continue this partnership is that this time around the PawSox organization will be responsible for $45 million in private funds.

To suggest that Pawtucket won’t have the ability to pay its portion of the debt service ignores the significant changes made to the legislation to address this concern. Under the revisions introduced December 7, half of the naming rights revenue would go to the city, and the surcharge on premium tickets, initially going to the state, has been redirected to Pawtucket. These changes will help ensure that, even before additional ancillary development, Pawtucket will have the means to pay its debt service through revenue generated by the project.

And to suggest that this proposal is somehow speculative – like 38 Studios, for example – ignores the fact that the PawSox are a decades-old, proven business entity. The state’s Auditor General and Commerce Corporation separately scrutinized the company’s financials, and both reported back that the PawSox organization will have the resources to keep their promise and pay their share of the debt. By contrast, 38 Studios was a new, un-vetted, highly speculative venture that had never been tried before. The Pawtucket Red Sox are tried and true.

The ballpark proposal has been thoroughly vetted, probably more so than any public-private partnership in the state’s history. There were seven Senate Finance Committee hearings at locations around the state, amounting to 28 hours of public input and testimony. The leadership and finance committees of both chambers and other officials, like the General Treasurer, have dedicated themselves to getting this right. That’s why we are confident that the proposal before us is mutually beneficial for the team and the people of Pawtucket and Rhode Island.

Where Finance Committee members had concerns, they have been addressed. Where public officials or the public at large had good ideas, they have been incorporated. The team’s finances have been independently reviewed, and the legislation has been revised to further reduce Pawtucket’s exposure to risk.

We don’t have a crystal ball, but by the same token, we cannot be stymied by our past. For Rhode Island to grow and thrive, we must be bold and willing to take calculated risks that are well vetted and designed to succeed. The revised legislation is just that: bold, well vetted and designed for success. It is designed to completely pay for itself. It keeps the PawSox where they belong: in Pawtucket. It creates a highly visible, beautiful ballpark (a replica of Fenway) right at the gateway to Rhode Island for all who enter to see. It would be a source of pride for all Rhode Islanders, and it gives economic development efforts in Pawtucket a nice shot in the arm.

We join with our colleagues in the Pawtucket delegation, the state’s mayors including Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien and Central Falls Mayor James Diossa, chambers of commerce, builders, and many, many more in urging the General Assembly to pass this proposal, for the health and welfare of our city and state. We encourage members of the public to let their state senators and representatives know that they don’t want to lose the PawSox to another state.