Around the bases again in Pawtucket
Baseball is back on the political agenda in Rhode Island again this year. After spending much of 2016 assuring fans that the PawSox were committed to Pawtucket — and to Rhode Island — the team continues to look at options other than McCoy for their future home. This year the team seems focused on approaching this challenge the right way, by gathering facts and making its case. Even folks who are most opposed to building a new stadium have to acknowledge that McCoy is dated and not up to the standards of the rest of the league. I’ve heard folks say “it’s fine for Pawtucket” but I think it’s time to reject that loser mindset and look ahead. Wouldn’t it be nice if players and teams talked about Pawtucket and Rhode Island in glowing terms?
A study released earlier this year showed that that upgrading McCoy would cost $68 million while demolishing and rebuilding on the same site would cost $78 million. The $68 million option is probably the least appealing since the report noted that it would likely generate “minimal return” on the investment. Demolishing it and rebuilding it seems like a not-so-great option too as some of the challenges (proximity to the highway and isolation from other redevelopment areas) remain by reusing the existing site. The team is also looking at other sites in Pawtucket, and probably in other states. Springfield and Worcester were once publicly wooing the team.
The trickiest part of this public policy challenge is that there are three parties involved, all with different financial interests. The city owns the stadium and is desperate to keep the team in Pawtucket. The state leases the stadium from the city and subleases it to the team, giving it a less compelling reason to keep it in Pawtucket while still wanting it to stay in state. The team’s lease is up in 2021 and the ownership is made up of a mix of Rhode Islanders and others. They need to make the franchise more profitable by keeping their overhead down and the fan base enthusiastic.
Opponents of the stadium are (rightly) concerned that a new stadium will cost the taxpayers many millions of dollars and serve only as a way to generate revenue for the wealthy stadium owners. This kneejerk reaction isn’t wrong, but it is a bit misguided. A new stadium can (and would) serve a public benefit and needs to be sold as such. While the ownership of the team has so far done a better job of educating the public about the choices (repair, rebuild or relocate), they’ve done less to educate Rhode Islanders about the benefits of having the Paw Sox here and what a new and better stadium could attract. I understand their stepping lightly after they were solidly rebuffed in Providence, but they’re going to have to take another trip around the bases — touching on all their best messages — to get this one done.
Cara Cromwell is a public affairs consultant with more than twenty years experience managing issues campaigns for corporations, non-profits, associations, coalitions and candidates on both sides of the aisle. An unaffiliated voter, serial ticket-splitter and enthusiastic Red Sox fan, she believes that in politics — and baseball — game changing action occurs in the middle, creating opportunity on the ball field and compromise and coalition-building in the halls of power. Visit her blog, Straight Up The Middle, at straightupthemiddle.blogspot.com and follow her on Twitter @cmcromwell.