PawSox owners seek $38 million taxpayer help for new stadium

Owners of the Pawtucket Red Sox on Tuesday rekindled plans to build a new stadium for the baseball team, this time by asking taxpayers for $38 million to help finance an $83 million ballpark project near downtown.

PawSox Chairman Larry Lucchino and Mayor Donald Grebien announced the plans at the city's historic Slater Mill. They are calling it Ballpark at Slater Mill because it would be built just across the Blackstone River from the old textile mill complex that anchors the city's economically struggling downtown.

The Triple-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox said it will pay $45 million, a majority investment, to build the stadium on the site of a former Apex department store, about a mile from McCoy Stadium, the team's current home.

The rest of the money — $23 million sought from the state and $15 million from the city — would come through bond agreements repaid with the stadium project's revenue over 30 years. The project now awaits approval from the Rhode Island General Assembly, Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo and Pawtucket's city government.

Lucchino said the team owners "have learned our lessons" after their 2015 request for about $120 million from taxpayers for a new stadium in Providence met strenuous public opposition. He asked people to keep an open mind this time, calling it a "very different proposal" that will pay for itself over time. He said the team will pay for any cost overruns and the project will "revitalize an underperforming part of downtown" Pawtucket by spurring nearby development of stores, restaurants and homes.

Added Grebien, the city's Democratic mayor: "It's not a subsidy."

Raimondo also expressed support, saying in a statement that the proposal "appears to pay for itself" and crediting the team "for listening to Rhode Islanders and coming up with a radically different proposal than two years ago."

But with state legislators in the final weeks of negotiations before they must balance next year's budget amid lagging tax revenues, the prospect of carving out millions of dollars for a ballpark is likely to face significant debate.

Republicans, a minority in the Democratic-controlled legislature, wasted no time in comparing it to the state's failed $75 million deal with 38 Studios, a video game company started by former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling.

"It is ironic that the PawSox owners are now asking for a $38 million dollar taxpayer subsidy," said a statement from Brandon Bell, chairman of the state GOP. "The number 38 reminds Rhode Islanders of 38 Studios: the bright idea of a former Red Sox pitcher and some clueless politicians that cost Rhode Island taxpayers millions."