Talking Politics

Is the soccer stadium a game-changer or a boondoggle?

By Ian Donnis
Posted 8/2/22

The soccer stadium at Tidewater Landing is variously described as a game-changer that will spark an economic resurgence in Pawtucket or a boondoggle that will be a historic debacle for taxpayers. …

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Talking Politics

Is the soccer stadium a game-changer or a boondoggle?


The soccer stadium at Tidewater Landing is variously described as a game-changer that will spark an economic resurgence in Pawtucket or a boondoggle that will be a historic debacle for taxpayers. Regardless of which view proves correct, Gov. Dan McKee made his support for the project very clear last week, casting the tie-breaking vote for revised financing that shifts money from surrounding development to the stadium itself.

“I’m not walking away from Pawtucket. That happened a few years back and that was the wrong decision,” McKee told reporters after the Commerce Corporation vote, in a clear dig at how former Gov. Gina Raimondo and former House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello let the PawSox get away to Worcester.

Critics, however, make the point that sports stadiums have a poor track record as a form of economic development. “[S]ports stadiums don’t pay for themselves,” RI GOP National Committeeman Steve Frias said in a Republican Party statement. “Taxpayer subsidies for sports stadiums are the epitome of corporate welfare. There are much better uses of taxpayer money than this stadium.”

Even though Pawtucket has emerged as an increasingly popular residential destination, there’s little doubt that the city could use a boost. On Tidewater Landing, the question comes down to whether $60 million in public investment (per WPRI) will fulfill the vision of a dynamic multi-use development (with housing, retail and recreational elements) or result just in a stadium with tepid support.

In the short term, backing the project carries political benefit for McKee – who has to run the table in his native Blackstone Valley to have a shot at retaining the governor’s office. With the governor’s campaign firing up its messaging, McKee pointed to a series of elements in the revised financing that he said will protect taxpayers.

At the same time, the far more expansive original plan for Tidewater Landing was unveiled in the days before the pandemic. That’s a reminder of how the broader economy could remain a big influence on the relative success or failure of the project in the years ahead.

CAPITAL MATTERS: Democratic candidate for governor Helena Buonanno Foulkes chalked up a noteworthy endorsement when she got the backing of Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza last week. The capital city is the biggest source of votes in a statewide race. The nod to Foulkes comes as Elorza’s popularity (per Boston Globe) and his interest in remaining relevant are up, even as his time during two terms at City Hall ticks down.

And although the burgeoning Latino community in Rhode Island is made up of a number of different groups with different traditions, Elorza’s endorsement, initially unveiled on Latino radio, sends a clear message about supporting Foulkes, a white former corporate executive, over rival Democrat Nellie Gorbea, a native of Puerto Rico.

Also backing the former CVS Health executive this week: former U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, now enjoying a quieter life in New Jersey; RI Senate Whip Maryellen Goodwin, a longtime power in Providence politics; and state Rep. Joseph Almeida, a familiar face on the city’s South Side. 

ECONOMIC INDICATORS: Stefan Pryor, competing with former Central Falls Mayor James Diossa in the Democratic primary for general treasurer, was an indefatigable booster of Rhode Island’s economy in his former role as state Commerce Secretary. During an interview on Political Roundtable, I asked Pryor about some of the less flattering indicators for Rhode Island, including how the state placed 45th in a business-climate ranking by CNBC and how, according to Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, labor force participation has fallen since last year and RI lags the nation in recovering jobs lost to the pandemic.

Here’s part of Pryor’s response: “[T]here are some positives that are really worth noting. On our unemployment drop recently: We’re at 2.7% unemployment; Massachusetts is at 3.7%; Connecticut is at 4%. We saw the biggest drop in the region when you compare June to June, 2021 to 2022. There are some terrifically strong indicators. But yes, it is the case that there remain weaknesses in our economy. We’re coming from behind. For decades, Rhode Island has not invested sufficiently or had a strategy to put our economy on track in the big areas where we have the best potential … Two examples would be the blue economy, or investing in technology and industry related to the ocean. We build part of America's submarine fleet here. We build other ocean vessels, we build offshore wind, and we’re the first in the nation to have turbines in the water. We’ve got to do more of that, and employ everyday Rhode Islanders. And we’ve got to invest in other areas, like advanced manufacturing, more generally.”

THE RACE FOR GOVERNOR: Nellie Gorbea released her climate plan and she got an endorsement from Clean Water Action … Gov. McKee keeps rolling up union endorsements, winning the backing of the National Education Association Rhode Island, the AFl-CIO, and Iron Workers, Local 37 … Helena Buonanno Foulkes got the nod from Middletown Democrats … Republican Ashley Kalus went up with another ad, focused on McKee.

CITY HAUL: Internal polling shared by Mayor Elorza with Dan McGowan this week matched the view of many political observers: with less than seven weeks until the decisive Sept. 13 primary, mayoral candidate Brett Smiley has a modest lead over rival Democrat Gonzalo Cuervo, with Nirva LaFortune trailing behind. Cuervo used a news conference on the steps of City Hall to discuss shifting the focus from tax deals and raising investment in neighborhoods. Cuervo also picked up an endorsement this week from state Sen. Tiara Mack.

In the aftermath of the shooting death of a 15-year-old West Warwick boy, Smiley sent an email focused on public safety: “I will take on these violent crimes that have impacted every neighborhood in our city and ensure the Providence police have the resources they need to hire staff and provide state-of-the-art, continuous training to the entire department — from the newest recruits to tested veterans.”

… LaFortune recently sketched out her vision via a plan for her first 100 days in office, saying in part: “I am running for mayor to help change the way politics in Providence works. I am running to bring your voice and the voice of your family, neighborhood, and community to the forefront of the decision-making process in Providence. I have never had the title of chief of staff or had a corner office overlooking Downtown Providence, but I have had a front row seat to the challenges facing families in our city, and I have bold ideas for how to begin solving some of the entrenched problems that Providence faces.”

CENTRAL CITY: Although Cranston has supplanted Warwick as Rhode Island’s second most-populous community, Warwick is a key battle ground in a series of General Assembly Democratic primary races. The outcome could be a significant factor in the R.I. Political Cooperative’s attempt to gain control of the state Senate and the selection of a new majority leader in the chamber. In one race, Mark McKenney and Sen. Jeanine Calkin are squaring off again after a series of past matches. McKenney ousted Calkin in 2018 and then she beat him two years later. In another race, Co-op co-founder Jennifer Rourke benefited from a wave of media attention after she was assaulted during an abortion rights demonstration outside the Statehouse, and that influenced Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey’s decision to not seek re-election. She faces a primary with Michael Carreiro.

Finally, there's a two-way Democratic primary for the seat being vacated by Sen. Kendra Anderson, with Co-op candidate Harrison Tuttle, head of the BLMRI PAC, and lawyer Matthew LaMountain. 

CLIMATE: Not long after President Biden’s recent trip to Somerset, Mass., U.S. Senate Democrats came together on what is billed as a historic response to the climate crisis (and the cost of prescription drugs). According to The New York Times, “The announcement of a deal, after many activists had given up hope, almost instantly reset the role of the United States in the global effort to fight climate change.” 

CHIPS: U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, the former governor of our fair state, has been leading the Biden administration’s charge on a bill to promote domestic production of semiconductors, calling it a matter of national security. Critics call the legislation a giveaway. Both the Senate and House have now passed the bill. In a statement, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed said the measure will spark innovation and scientific research in Rhode Island while funneling money to Brown and URI.

SURVEILLANCE STATE: Whether it’s audio recording in the EP City Clerk’s office or Flock cameras capturing license plates, is George Orwell’s vision of Big Brother-style monitoring moving a bit closer? People in law enforcement agree with Flock’s view that the plate-readers can make a crucial difference in solving crimes. The RI ACLU remains unconvinced on the merits. Via news release: “As the manufacturers of this technology regularly tout more, and more expansive, ways of tracking people and their vehicles with this equipment, the dangers to fundamental privacy rights simply cannot be brushed away. Further, one need only look at the many highly publicized incidents where Providence police officers have been found, against departmental policy, not to have activated their body cameras to recognize that promises of ‘audits’ and assurances that the Flock Safety technology will not be abused are meaningless.”

KICKER: Mother of mercy, is this the end of Choco Taco? Sympathy to crestfallen fans of the ice cream treat being discontinued by its corporate overlord. The good news is how some local ice cream purveyors have their own version, including Tricycle Ice Cream in Providence. There’s even a peanut butter version for PB-nuts like yours truly.

Ian Donnis can be reached at You can follow him on Twitter @IanDon. For a longer version of this column or to sign up for email dlelivery, visit

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