PawSox on deck after Rhode Island lawmakers OK stadium bond deal

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Rhode Island lawmakers approved a bonding framework to finance an $83 million minor-league baseball stadium for the Pawtucket Red Sox, amid warnings that going without state support for the bonds would push up borrowing costs.

The House of Representatives and Senate, with separate bills in play, passed the House version by respective votes of 53-13 and 26-6, respectively, on Friday night, to send the legislation to Gov. Gina Raimondo.

The franchise plays in Triple-A baseball, the highest rung of the minor leagues. Its owners are weighing a move to Worcester, Massachusetts.

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, D-Cranston, sponsored the House bill, which shifts risk from taxpayers by doing without a state guarantee on revenue bonds related to the project.

Removing the state's guarantee would mean higher higher interest rates, reflecting higher risk for investors.

A Senate Fiscal Office analysis said the House version could cost $55 million to $87 million more than the Senate’s version passed in January. The analysis pegged the cost at $201 million to $234 million, way up from the $147 million in the Senate bill.

Senate Finance Chairman William Conley, D-East Providence, whose district includes Pawtucket, said the measure is an important opportunity for the state and the city.

“This is enabling legislation, and although it is far more costly than the Senate structure, we want to give the city, the state and the ball club a chance to see if this will keep the PawSox in Rhode Island,” he said.

The 10,000-seat Ballpark at Slater Mill would be at the site of the former Apex department store and nearby properties in the 71,000-population city along the Blackstone River. It would replace 76-year-old McCoy Stadium, baseball’s oldest Triple-A facility and home to the PawSox since 1973.

Worcester is wooing the PawSox, though team, city and International League officials are holding their their cards closely.

“We saw this proposed legislation for the first time only [Friday] morning, so it would be premature to comment further without having studied its terms and ramifications,” the team said in a statement Friday night after the bill passed.

“We will continue to work with the City of Pawtucket to see if this new proposal is feasible, viable and permissible.”

Mattiello wants to secure the bonds solely from revenue generated in and around the ballpark.

To finance the project without a state guarantee, his plan would dedicate both city property taxes and a variety of state taxes -- such as sales tax, income tax and hotel tax -- to paying off 30-year bonds, essentially creating a “super TIF,” referring to tax-increment financing.

Mattiello’s plan would involve higher borrowing costs than the Senate’s estimated $14 million.

The team would still pay $45 million while state and city tax revenue would cover $38 million,

The contribution by the PawSox would involve $12 million upfront and $33 million in bonds. The city-controlled Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency would own the ballpark, issue the bonds and lease the stadium to the team.

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Tax increment financing district Infrastructure Budgets State of Rhode Island City of Pawtucket, RI Rhode Island Massachusetts