Lord Jim’s “Skeffonomics”

James Skeffington, Larry Lucchino and one of their economic advisers at Monday's meeting. (Photos by David Brussat)

James Skeffington, Larry Lucchino and one of their economic advisers at Monday’s meeting. (Photos by David Brussat)

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.

Protesters listen to plans for stadium.

Protesters listen to plans for stadium.

The architects explain their design.

The architects explain their design.

The design in its early stages.

The design in its early stages.

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.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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2 Responses to Lord Jim’s “Skeffonomics”

  1. It may be that 90 percent of opponents feel no such disdain, but it may also be that 90 percent do. We simply don’t know. In any event, as I have said in every blog post and every GoLocal piece I’ve written on the subject thus far, the deal as it stands is a nonstarter. I am on the fence not because I am for it or against it, but because I don’t know what deal, if any, will eventually be negotiated.

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  2. barry says:

    David, I think the opposition is not because of disdain for nerds, but because we have been burned by insider-politico deals that prey on the taxpayers – e.g. 38 Studios, Providence Economic Development Partnership etc. – in this case the principals are especially hypocritical (saying they are “committed” to staying in RI when obviously they are not, not to speak of Mr. Murray selling out the state when Fleet transmogrified to Bank of America ultimately leaving us with an infamously empty building) Protestors detailed much evidence that minor league teams do little to generate economic development, better to critique that if you can than complain about their laughter.

    That said, I encourage you to continue to watchdog and critique their design. If the fix is in and we are going to give away the store, they might as well do it in a more pleasing way.

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