By JOSEPH B. NADEAU
PAWTUCKET – Mayor Donald Grebien said he would have liked to have joined his fellow mayor James Diossa, of Central Falls, and Lt. Gov. Dan McKee on an international trip to build business and cultural connections for the Blackstone Valley, but helping the Pawtucket Red Sox build support for a new stadium in Pawtucket remains his top priority.
So while McKee and Diossa were making their way back home after visiting Hong Kong and Taiwan on their trip with Blackstone Valley business leaders, Grebien was at the Statehouse Tuesday evening appearing with other Pawtucket officials during the House Finance Committee’s review of the PawSox’ proposed $83 million new stadium at the Apex site near the Slater Mill.
“I was supposed to go along, but then this hearing was set and I had to stay behind so I could be here,” Grebien said while explaining he could not miss the House of Representatives Finance Committee session on the proposed stadium and its related state and city financial support, including $15 million from the Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency, that would be repaid through various revenue sources, including taxes on real estate, tangible property, and food and beverage sales.
Grebien said the trip to China and Taiwan had been scheduled to further develop the area’s existing connections to the region that have been developed by local business people such as Louis Yip, one of the trip’s participants, and the Taipei Economic & Cultural Office in Boston.
The Taipei organization has helped build community exchanges between Taiwan and the Blackstone Valley through programs bringing in exchange students to local schools, and also support for cultural events, business development, and programs like the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council’s Dragon Boat Races & Taiwan Day at Festival Pier in September.
“We are hoping that the trip will further develop the relationships we have between Taiwan and China and the local communities,” Grebien said.
Although he could not go on the trip, which lasted more than a week, Grebien said he had thought about talking to representatives of Taiwan’s baseball league, considered the equivalent of the PawSox Triple-A baseball league here.
“They have one of the best baseball leagues equal to Triple-A, and I wanted to connect that to what we are doing here,” he said.
McKee was expected by staff members to arrive back in Rhode Island Tuesday, while some other participants in the trip won’t be back until the weekend.
The lieutenant governor did post a photo of his trip on Twitter showing him giving a check for $2,000 in support of a Boys & Girls Club association in Hong Kong, and noting his father, James McKee, had helped to found the Boys & Girls Club of Cumberland and Lincoln.
Robert Billington, executive director of the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, said he could not make this fall’s trip to China due to family commitments, but had traveled on a similar business and cultural development tour put on by the Taipei Economic & Cultural Office and local businesses in the past.
Yip, he noted, has a been a key backer of the cultural exchange between the Blackstone Valley and China, and noted that he went on the trip to Taipei with the hopes of obtaining support for adding to the local fleet of Chinese dragon boats used in the local races during the Pawtucket Arts Festival each year.
The original boats, seating 24 paddlers and crew, were obtained through a $100,000 donation from Taiwan businesses more than 10 years ago, and Billington said Yip hopes to find support for obtaining a few boats seating fewer people, say 12, for future races on this trip.
The Taipei Economic & Cultural Office supported this year’s Dragon Boat festival by sending all of the entertainment put on during the day, as well as a new kite flying and instructional session and exhibits for cultural and economic exchange.
Billington said he did not know the whole schedule for the trip, but believed it included visits to Taipei in Taiwan, as well as Hong Kong and other locations in China.
Having taken the 18-hour or longer flight to the Far East himself, Billington said the trip can be an eye opener for someone who has never been there before. “Taiwan is an absolutely fascinating country and so different from what you would expect to find there,” he said.
Cumberland Mayor William Murray said he also had been invited to make the trip, but had too many things going on in town to take the time to go this year.
“I think it would be a very valuable opportunity to build economic relationships,” Murray said. “I always found in business that face-to-face meetings were a great way to make a business connection. It builds a much closer relationship than if you make a phone call or send a letter.”