PAWTUCKET – Where was this show of enthusiastic and unbridled support for the PawSox?
Where was the united front that was on full display inside the Blackstone Valley Visitor Center on this overcast and gloomy Monday two years ago when “private/public partnership” was the buzz?
If you’ve paid close attention to the rise-and-fall chronicles of the PawSox ballpark saga, the sight of Governor Gina Raimondo, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio wearing gold scarfs adorned in black trim with “Rhode Island” and “USL” in white lettering, represented a vast departure from their previously-held stance regarding a hotly-debated and thoroughly vetted project that was tied to Pawtucket.
Clearly, three of our state’s most prominent political leaders have given their full backing and are completely onboard with the much-needed economic life raft that has been thrown the city’s way. The trio smiled for the cameras and spoke in glowing terms that the time has come to make way for professional soccer beginning with 2022.
Better late than never, I guess.
Too bad a similar chipper and cheerful attitude was absent on the banks of the Blackstone River in May 2017 when the Ballpark at Slater Mill proposal was presented at a press conference held on a picturesque spring afternoon.
In fact, it’s downright shameful when you look at Monday’s roll-out-the-welcome-mat for a United Soccer League franchise, then harken back to the noticeable lack of backing that ultimately doomed any hope of keeping the PawSox out of Worcester’s clutches.
Raimondo, Mattiello, and Ruggerio were not present at the aforementioned 2017 press conference that announced a plan to keep the PawSox within the city limits. Some may say they were glaringly absent and produced sounds of silence that severely weakened the case of the minor-league team and the crusade undertaken by Mayor Donald Grebien.
To the political trio comprising the most powerful and influential leadership in Rhode Island, the PawSox were nothing more than a hot potato. You take it! No, you take it! I don’t want to touch it!
No one wanted to step to the forefront and seize ownership for a deal that costs much less than the dollars and cents that were mentioned Monday. Raimondo, Mattiello and Ruggerio never once sat in the same room with PawSox Chairman Larry Lucchino. There was never the opportunity to hammer out the details or create wiggle room that would have forced Worcester to settle for runner-up status.
To see how Monday unfolded, then conjure up of memories of how the PawSox were ultimately lost … it’s nothing more than a slapstick of comedic errors, misdeeds, and missteps that would make for a good Saturday Night Live skit.
You can talk about how the tax incentives have changed for the better regarding Pawtucket, hence why sayings such as “opportunity of a lifetime” were uttered Monday in conjunction with the announcement of a $400 million project.
You also heard words and catch phrases that if you closed your eyes, it felt like 2017 all over again. There was “collaboration” along with “result of a team effort” and “partnership is truly valued.” At one time, those snappy sayings were part and parcel with what the PawSox were seeking to accomplish.
As it turned out, the 2017-18 version of collaboration lacked sizzle. The idea where “partnership is truly valued” and “result of a team effort” … it all rang hollow. On Monday, the steaks were on the grill and they were hissing away. Everyone was on the same page.
I kept waiting for some sort of announcement that the R.I. State Senate would be holding hearings around the state in an effort to get Brett Johnson’s message out there and win the support of the taxpayers – Johnson is the founder & partner of Fortuitous Partners and the Co-Chairman of the Phoenix Rising Football Club – but it never happened.
Funny, the PawSox were told they needed to convince the public why the $83 million needed to construct the Ballpark of Slater Mill was a good idea. The team obliged, yet all roads led to a dead end when it came to convincing the grand poohbahs with offices at the Statehouse.
Speaking of dollars and cents, the PawSox were prepared to commit $45 million – the largest private investment in the history of Pawtucket – while the state would be on the hook for $23 million and the city would kick in $15 million. That looks like chump change upon hearing that the city and state are contributing an estimated $70-$90 million to this $400 million venture – one that also includes non-stadium development.
Lest we forget, the onus was on the Ballpark at Slater Mill to kickstart the vision and hope for a vibrant business community. In what could be described as a second bite at the apple, the template where sports goes hand-and-hand with additional components was included in the proposal unveiled Monday.
Sitting in his McCoy Stadium office Monday afternoon, Lucchino elected to take the high road about Pawtucket and Rhode Island changing their tune and welcoming this $400 million project with open arms.
“I’m glad to see some good things have come out of this for Pawtucket and Mayor Grebien,” said Lucchino. “Inevitably, people will reach the conclusion that we were a pre-step toward this. When our deal did not come to a successful fruition, we knew there would be some consequences. For us, it’s a new ballpark in Worcester. For Pawtucket, it’s a new soccer stadium and development surrounding it.”
A new soccer stadium in Pawtucket that Raimondo, Mattiello and Ruggerio really seem want – unlike the Ballpark at Slater Mill.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03