Giannini: PawSox Stadium Was Never a Priority For RI’s leaders

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Will a new Pawtucket Red Sox Stadium turn into a White Elephant like McCoy?

It’s amazing for me to watch the story of the PawSox leaving RI unfold. The four year saga started when the late Jim Skeffington, co-owner of the PawSox, come up with the idea to build a brand new state of the art stadium in Providence on the I-95 land.

Skeffington’s idea was to move the PawSox from McCoy Stadium to a brand new facility to be built in Providence on the waterfront on the I-95 land.  Almost immediately, it met with opposition before the details were even revealed.

Opposition started in Pawtucket with Mayor Grebien, who fought like a gladiator to keep the team in Pawtucket. Pawtucket residents vehemently opposed the move, citing Pawtucket was the home of the PawSox and the surrounding neighborhoods depended on McCoy for entertainment, support, and financial resources.

The #Resistance

This resistance started with the thought of relocation and then blossomed into resisting any state funding or help at all. The Pawtucket Mayor and his followers led a staunch effort to oppose the Providence stadium.

This opposition transferred to East side residents in Providence, who did not want a stadium on the 195 land at all. They organized a full court press to stop the Providence stadium nicknaming it (38 Stadium) in reference to the 38 studio debacle. This nickname stuck with the Providence proposal as Skeffington tried to promote the project. 

Soon, fans like these will not be lined up for Pawtucket Red Sox games at McCoy Stadium.

Then something awful happened. Skeffington suddenly died. The project seemed to be in peril. Enter Larry Lucchino, who took over the task of trying to sell this project to Providence, Pawtucket, and to State and city leaders. 

Listening Tours

Listening tours were set up across the state of RI where plans were displayed and questions were answered by Dr. Charles Steinberg, Vice President of Paw Sox and Dan Rea, executive assistant to Larry Lucchino. City and state officials were invited to these listening tours in each community. The listening tours were advertised on social media and in the newspaper.

But many elected officials chose not to be involved. I know this because I was brought in to help with these listening tours and develop an open dialogue between the PawSox organization and the community. Quickly, the listening tours became confrontational and unorganized.

I changed the format to an orderly dialogue between all parties, where people were actually talking instead of yelling, which they did when the listening tours started. It took a while, but the listening tours became more of a gathering of proponents and opponents, who got to know each other and even though they shared different beliefs, it stopped being antagonistic.

I understood the concerns of the Pawtucket residents who felt that the PawSox team belonged in McCoy. I understood the plight of the PawSox organization who wanted to build a new state of the art stadium in Providence like the one in Durham, North Carolina.

A Disconnect

But the support for the Providence Project grew, yet had little or no support from Providence officials or State leaders. It seemed to be put on hold and everyone avoided it like the plague. It did not even seem like it had Union support like the Toll project (Rhodeworks) had.

Everyone avoided commenting on it and the East side residents who were intent on other plans for the l 95 plan prevailed. They went on radio, organized rallies, debates and wrote editorials against the Providence proposal even before the details were revealed or discussed. This organized opposition, against the Providence stadium, wanted that waterfront land to be a park or open space. 

The 38 stadium name stuck on the project like a piece of gum. The stigma of the failed 38 studios killed the Providence stadium before it even got off the ground. And no one cared or spoke up. Not one elected leader in state government and city government commented.

Grebien’s Quest

Mayor Don Grebien continued his quest to keep the PawSox in Pawtucket.  I believe staying in Pawtucket was the PawSox organization’s last ditch effort to make it work here in RI. The  majority of the people of RI did not want to pay for the new stadium. Many felt that the PawSox owners, who are very wealthy, should fund their own stadium. These sentiments were shared by many General Assembly members who voiced their concerns.

Often, it seemed like only the Pawtucket people were in favor of the project. While they had vehemently opposed a Providence location with any taxpayer money involved, they overwhelmingly supported a Pawtucket stadium on the former Apex location, with taxpayer money involved, of course.

But that support was not enough to make the new stadium a reality. The money figures never quite made sense to many. And the RI Senate and House of Representatives disagreed on the details of the proposal.

The Silent Governor

Meanwhile, the Governor remained silent until the deal was announced on Friday in Worcester. Call it being a Monday morning quarter back, or whatever you like, the Governor said she was disappointed and would reach out. Silence by the Governor and silence by powerful union leaders, over the last few years, did not help make this stadium happen.  

Mr. Lucchino stated in his announcement that his mother would tell him to “go where you are wanted.. “. And that’s exactly what Lucchino did.

He got a better reception and deal in Worcester than in RI. They are businessmen and in the end it is a business.

Whether you are for or against a ballpark stadium in RI, you have to admit Ben Mondor must be rolling in his grave.  In 1998, the General Assembly gave The PawSox organization approximately $21 million to redo McCoy stadium, which was Mondor’s pride and joy.

Lingering questions will haunt many for a long time. What would have happened had Jim Skeffington lived? What would have happened if the Pawtucket people had not opposed the Providence stadium? What would have happened if the Governor had made this a priority?  What would have happened if General Assembly agreed on a stadium  bill that pleased taxpayers? And what would have happened if all these parties chose to work together?  The results might have been different. There might have been a new stadium in the future.

So now we are left with the lingering question of what will happen to MCCoy stadium? The lack of insight is evident. This state continues to be reactive instead of proactive and that can be dangerous thing.

Lingering Questions

The l-95 land continues to be a thorn of controversy. The people who didn’t want a stadium there, will they want the Fane “Hightower” project there? Or are they against any development?  Inquiring minds want to know.

We will feel the sting of all these actions in years to come and that is truly sad. The PawSox leave not only leave behind a historical era of baseball but memories of days gone by with some of our most famous baseball greats in history.

Somehow the name “Woosox” just doesn’t fill the bill and traveling to Worcester just doesn’t  seem to be in the cards.

 
 
 
 
 
Joanne Giannini
Joanne Giannini is a former State Representative from Providence. A freelance journalist, consultant and writer, she has previously written commentary for The Providence journal, GolocalProv and WPRO radio. Contact her at Pt3270@yahoo.com
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  1. You paint Pawtucket residents as hypocrites based on opposition to public funding for a Providence stadium versus support for a Pawtucket stadium. Is it wrong for them not wanting their tax dollars to steal a cherished institution from their community and pay to have it go to a neighboring city where it seems almost all RI tax money and focus already goes?

    This stadium would have been a much needed development jump start for Pawtucket, a city that has faced several recent blows with little help and support from state leaders. It is still fresh in the mind of city residents that state regulators allowed Care NE to purposely sabotage the operations of Memorial Hospital (one of the largest hospitals in the state) and actually green-light its quick closure. Care NE was allowed to stop performing many procedures and instead directed them to its other local hospitals (Miriam, W&I, Kent). This unsurprisingly resulted in declining admissions which Care NE then used as a justification for its closing. The state allowed this and did nothing. Now city residents are forced to travel further for care in the already overburdened Providence hospitals.

    How should Pawtucket residents feel when the state of RI with little debate spent 100+M public dollars to purchase the Dunkin Donuts Center and renovate it with no contribution from the main private tenants (P Bruins/PC Friars) and then held the new Pawtucket stadium which would have only had 23M in state funding to a much different standard? Think about this for a second – 45M in private money for a structure in RI is now not going to happen. Instead of an impressive stadium as a welcoming landmark to those entering the state from MA, they will get to see a mostly empty building (Apex) whose condition continues to decline. Some might sadly say this is fitting metaphor for the state.

    State government in RI is dysfunctional and cannot get things done. 38 Studios was a stupid move on the part of state leaders. That much money should never have been spent on a startup company in a volatile industry. While it should be reason for more caution, it should not forever handcuff the state toward better less risky projects. The Pawtucket Red Sox were a cherished RI institution for nearly 50 years and they were willing to pay for the majority of the stadium which would have been owned by the City of Pawtucket. If state leaders had acted over a year ago, Worcester would not have had the opportunity or time to put together such an attractive deal. While I feel Worcester is foolish in what is being offered, they at least could get everyone together and make something happen. RI politicians played turf wars and took a timid approach and basically chased out a long time private business.

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