PAWTUCKET – The plan to bring Pawtucket Red Sox baseball to a downtown ballpark may have been a swing and a miss, but elected officials on Monday afternoon showed a united front when discussing the proposal that would welcome professional soccer to a brand-new stadium on the riverfront, confident that they would be able to score for the city.
The details of the 7,500-seat soccer stadium and additional development were announced at the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council Visitor Center on Monday morning, which was filled with a standing-room crowd consisting of City Councilors, School Committee members, students and principals from city high schools, state legislators from the House and State Senate, and a variety of excited local residents.
Wearing black and gold scarves with “Rhode Island” emblazoned on them were Mayor Donald R. Grebien, Gov. Gina M. Raimondo, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, showcasing that the proposal already has support across all levels of government, something that was notably lacking during conversations surrounding the downtown PawSox ballpark.
The $400 million investment in Pawtucket’s waterfront and downtown would be the largest economic development project in city history. Plans call for construction of a 7,500-seat soccer stadium, retail and restaurant space, residences, a hotel, and an indoor sports events center situated on three parcels of land on the Tidewater, Division Street, and Apex parcels.
The proposal is via the investment firm Fortuitous Partners, headed up by Brett M. Johnson – the co-chairman of the Phoenix Rising team in the United Soccer League’s Championship Division, the second division of American professional soccer.
“It will transform our city, the Blackstone Valley, and the state of Rhode Island for years and generations to come…” said a beaming Grebien. “Our patience and our perseverance has paid off. This development and revitalization has been long overdue.”
Grebien thanked those in attendance for a “true collaboration” and for staying the course in the revitalization of downtown Pawtucket.
“Here we have an opportunity of a lifetime … This has been a long time coming,” he said. “The project will be a large part of the economic development that propels our city, the Blackstone Valley, and Rhode Island forward.”
Raimondo noted the size of the crowd inside the Visitor Center on Monday afternoon, which numbered well over 200. She said it was a “fantastic turnout for a fantastic announcement … It must be big, because it seems like we have the whole town here today. This is a transformative day for the city of Pawtucket.”
“Wow is right, it’s going to be gorgeous,” she said after detailing the plans. “It’s going to light up Pawtucket. It’s more than just Pawtucket, more than just retail, it’s a development that will connect the riverfront to the city, breathe life into the city. It’s the beginning of a new day of prosperity and economic vitality in the city of Pawtucket.”
The governor said Rhode Island is a top-10 market for televised soccer in the United States, calling the sport “the future” based on increasing viewership trends.
Johnson, who will head the franchise’s ownership group, said Monday was “an absolute dream come true.”
“It’s not about professional soccer, it’s about community, and soccer builds community,” Johnson said. “The state of Rhode Island is the best market in the country without professional soccer. The ability for us to build this community and invest hundreds of millions and create thousands of jobs will have an impact for decades to come.”
Johnson later said that the team name and logo will be crowdsourced from the community and entry-level tickets to a USL match are in the range of $8. Plans would have Rhode Island’s USL team debuting in March 2022.
United Soccer League Chief Operating Officer Justin Papadakis spoke of the benefits that a game of soccer can bring to a community, particularly in trying times.
“To me, the most magical element is that for those two hours when you’re watching a game, the community, when they’re supporting their team, they’re united as one,” he said. “At the USL, our mission is to unite communities through soccer. For the 3.1 million in our 2019 season who attended our matches live and the millions more that watch our matches, the inclusive nature of soccer is the connective tissue that binds our supporters together in a world that is divided in many aspects.”
“We look forward to truly making this a transformational development,” he later added. “Having Rhode Island on the front of a USL jersey is a privilege. We view our teams as true community assets. There’s no doubt in a couple of years, Rhode Island will be a powerhouse for soccer in the United States.”
Ruggerio called the stadium and its adjacent development a “transformational project” that will “benefit our state immensely.”
“Pawtucket’s the northern gateway for our state, this will help it grow … I can’t say enough about Mayor Grebien and his tenacity...” the Senate President said. “The city has seen its shares of setbacks, but he’s been resilient.”
Mattiello, meanwhile, lauded the Pawtucket representatives in the House who “really worked tirelessly to making sure this vision gets done.”
“I’m very proud of this project, I’m very proud of the collaboration that brought it here…” Mattiello said. “The vision will transform the waterfront and the city of Pawtucket. This is real economic development.”
“We have a very, very strong soccer community. Soccer is growing, soccer is going to be the future in sports. It’s growing, it draws large crowds, and those large crowds are necessary for the economic impact to a community,” he added.
Jonathan Bissonnette on Twitter @J_Bissonnette