Last Friday, when the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission bowed to pressure and let new PawSox owners James Skeffington and Larry Lucchino address the commissioners in public, the wheels of cynicism started spinning furiously. On Monday, when I arrived at the commission’s headquarters on Iron Horse Way near the IHOP, there was already a crowd of protesters. It was generally quiet through most of the presentation. Signs don’t make much noise, especially ones that say “No Welfare for Lord Skeffington” – even if the sentiment is entirely sensible.
I am still on the fence, but the protest’s several uncivil outbursts of ill-timed laughter and groans of feigned disbelief pushed me just a bit toward Skeffington’s side.
The project keeps sounding nicer and nicer. The architects made their presentation but did little to address my main concern about the design. The ballpark looks quite pretty, but renderings lack the detail to close the deal. I want to hear more about the quality of the materials, the depth of the key setbacks, the way sun and shadow will play on detail, and the further levels of embellishment that will determine whether the ballpark can avoid a plasticky faux-historical cheesiness. But the architects themselves probably don’t know all that yet.
The real boost to the stadium proposal came from the passion of Skeffington and Lucchino in arguing that a downtown stadium would really help Rhode Island do a better job of attracting high-tech development to the rest of the 195 land.
For a couple of weeks the idea had been percolating of putting the stadium on the Victory Plating property a few blocks farther south. Skeffington alluded to it after a commissioner asked about alternative locations. Arguably, the land he has his eyes on now would hit a home run – not for his team or for his own bottom line necessarily but for the economic development of the city and state. Only a downtown location can spark a rally of synergies. The Victory Plating site has its merits, but it would hardly do more than Pawtucket to attract the attention of entrepreneurs with brainy young employees.
There is a widespread stereotype of science, computer and research nerds that they look down their noses at the very idea of going to a ballgame, and that sports are stupid. That is a deeply ingrained social prejudice, and I suspect that it drives part of the opposition to this project. Clearly the possibility of walking a block to see a ball game after work can only make nearby land more attractive to business – certainly more so than yet another park along a city waterfront already quite famously lined with parks, bless their hearts.
Skeffington made all the right noises about keeping the games affordable, but may have undercut his own point with a reference to young engineers with families. He also seemed genuinely eager to negotiate terms with the city and state.
Let’s hope so. A deal in which a debt-ridden public is soaked $120 million to repay Lord Skeffington for $85 million worth of noblesse oblige is not exactly the sort of public/private partnership that is likely to fly in post-38 Studios Rhode Island. Talk by the PawSox owners of buying the stadium land was a step, but only a step, in the right direction.