by RI House Finance Chairman William Conley

On September 14, the Senate Finance Committee will begin a series of hearings on the financing proposal for a new Pawtucket Red Sox stadium at the Apex site in Pawtucket. It is our intention to thoroughly review all aspects of the proposal and to conduct these hearings in an accessible and transparent manner. Every hearing will be broadcast on Capitol Television. Hearings will be held both at the State House and in communities throughout the state in order to give every Rhode Islander who wants to participate the opportunity to have their voices heard.

We also have established a special website, www.PawSoxHearings.com. The website will serve as a public repository for pertinent documents on the stadium proposal. Video of all hearings will be uploaded to the PawSoxHearings.com site, in addition to the General Assembly’s webpage. Anyone wishing to submit comments to the Finance Committee may do so via the www.PawSoxHearings.comwebsite.

In May, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio rightly determined that there was insufficient time remaining in the regular legislative session to give a proposal of this magnitude the thorough vetting it requires. We need to analyze all of the numbers fully and ensure that members of the public can make their voices heard as part of a deliberative process in which Rhode Islanders can have confidence. To that end, my Pawtucket colleagues and I filed legislation in June with the clear message that it would not be taken up until these hearings in the fall. In this way, the legislation has been publicly available for months to be scrutinized accordingly.

We are now preparing to move on to the next stage of the public dialogue: the committee hearing process. It is our hope that the Senate Finance Committee’s intensive hearing process will enable every Rhode Islander wishing to register a position or provide input the opportunity to do so, and the committee will delve deeply into the numbers and underlying assumptions.

Using the team’s figures, the income taxes the state of Rhode Island collects from the PawSox organization exceeds the annual cost to the state of the stadium proposal. Provided those revenue numbers continue, the project would be self-sustaining and “pay for itself.” Put another way, it would be a net loss to Rhode Island should the team decide to relocate to another state, because we earn more revenue from the team than it would cost state taxpayers in subsidies.

The team’s commitment of $45 million is the largest private contribution to a public ballpark in Triple-A history, according to the league. The team’s portion would be backstopped by the International League, not the state, limiting taxpayers’ exposure to risk. Their investment would constitute the largest private investment in the history of Pawtucket. The stadium is envisioned as a catalyst for economic development and revitalization in downtown Pawtucket.

The cultural significance of the team to both Pawtucket and the state of Rhode Island is substantial. The PawSox – who hosted the longest professional baseball game in history – are deeply woven into the cultural fabric of our state. They provide affordable family entertainment, and have been tremendous community partners.

I represent Pawtucket. I want to see the PawSox stay here where they belong. However, as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I am approaching the upcoming hearings not as a cheerleader for the proposal but as a steward of the taxpayers’ dollars. We are working to determine whether this is a wise investment for the state. We invite every Rhode Islander to join the public dialogue on this important proposal.

The committee will meet at 6 p.m. on the following dates and locations, and take public testimony at each hearing:

  • State House: September 14
  • Pawtucket: September 26 at Tolman High School
  • Kingston: October 3 at the University of Rhode Island
  • East Greenwich: October 11 at New England Institute of Technology in East Greenwich
  • Bristol: October 12 at Roger Williams University in Bristol
  • Smithfield: October 19 at Bryant University in Smithfield

At the conclusion of the hearing process, the Senate Finance Committee will issue a final report containing findings based on all the testimony and written comments, and make any amendments to the legislation that the Committee determines are warranted.

The Senate is extremely grateful to Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien for the significant amount of time and energy devoted by his administration, along with the PawSox organization and the Commerce Corporation, in seeking a mutually beneficial arrangement that would keep the PawSox franchise in Pawtucket and encourage further economic growth in the city.

William J. Conley, Jr. is a Democrat representing Rhode Island Senate District 18, which includes portions of East Providence and Pawtucket. He is Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and is the prime sponsor of legislation to subsidize a new PawSox stadium.

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