RI lawmakers consider revised PawSox stadium pitch

(WJAR)

Lawmakers began reviewing a new plan to replace the Pawtucket Red Sox aging stadium.

The House Finance Committee showed preliminary support for the proposal Thursday night, as did Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien.

"I'm excited and hopeful more now than ever," Grebien said.

Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said his plan eliminates the state's guarantee on the project in case revenues from the projected ballpark for the Boston Red Sox Triple-A affiliate fall short.

The old plan, which was passed by the Senate in January, would contribute $23 million in state money to the $83 million stadium. The city would pitch in $15 million and the team, a Triple-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, would provide the rest.

Mattiello's plan would instead use tax revenues directly generated by the park and its surrounding area to fund the state's contributions. If revenues fall short, Mattiello said the Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency would have to pay off the debt, not taxpayers.

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, another Democrat, shared his thoughts about the plan with NBC 10 News ahead of the hearing.

“I perused the bill quickly and I think it needs some work from what I’ve seen,” he said. “I want to see what happens in the House because, obviously, they might make some changes on it depending on the testimony, so I really don’t have an opinion on it right now. I like what the Speaker is trying to do as far as alleviate the liability upon the state.”

Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor said the new plan amounted to a "promising framework" that needed to be fleshed out.

The new House framework largely mirrors the Senate plan expect for one key aspect: It eliminates the state's guarantee of $23 million.

But Mattiello said that makes the deal less risky for taxpayers, who would have been on the hook if the stadium floundered.

"The state of Rhode Island taxpayers will not be responsible for any of the debt associated with that project," Mattiello said.

In the new plan, the Pawtucket Redevelopment Authority would use so-called special revenue bonds to help fund the project.

The bonds allow the city and state to set up an account for tax money raised directly by the new ballpark and the area surrounding it, which would go toward repaying the bonds. Mattiello said that would amount to a couple million dollars per year.

If revenues fall short, there is no further obligation to pay the bonds.

"There's not a default. You get paid if the money is there," said Sharon Reynolds Ferland, the House fiscal adviser.

But because there is no recourse, the financing costs are more expensive. Reynolds Ferland said it was too early to estimate how much more expensive the new plan would be.

"You do have to demonstrate that you're a good enough risk for them to give you the money," she said.

Pawtucket Rep. Mary Messier, donning a PawSox pin, and Sen. Donna Nesselbush, both Democrats, also voiced support for the plan.

"It appears there's a path forward," Nesselbush said, "and I couldn't be happier and more heartened about that."

The plan doesn’t include any numbers on the state or city financing end.

Meanwhile, Republicans argue the plan essentially forces the city alone, through its redevelopment agency, to back-stop the deal.

Team leadership from the PawSox was at the hearing, but told NBC 10 they just wanted to listen to what unfolded.

(NBC 10 News contributed to this report.)

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