Tidbits of stadium news

Proposed ballpark for PawSox in downtown Providence. (PawSox)

Proposed ballpark for PawSox in downtown Providence. (PawSox)

The job of negotiating a deal between Rhode Island and the owners of the Pawtucket Red Sox on a stadium in Providence grows harder day by day, it seems. Recent news that talks with Brown University over selling its land (with its ugly building) are stalled, and that Mayor Jorge Elorza is calling upon the team to pay for municipal services its relocation would require, are not making the numbers fit together any better.

Also, a concert promoter has expressed interested in using the proposed public park space where the stadium would go as the site of an outdoor arena for concerts and other events. I cannot figure out whether this idea is a stalking horse for the stadium or for its opponents. You cannot support both a private arena and a private stadium, of course, but you also cannot oppose the stadium and support the arena. But there it is in the mix!

And now Lifespan – the state’s biggest hospital collective – has purchased the Victory Plating site that some consider a viable alternative to the 195 land for a new ballpark. A ballpark at Victory Plating would be no more attractive than a ballpark in Pawtucket – it would just cost more, with little expectation of a return on investment of the sort that team owners seem to expect from a waterfront ballpark.

None of that news makes much difference. If the PawSox move is a bid by the new owners to make a lot more money from the franchise, there will be no deal. No acceptable public subsidy is likely to bring costs down enough to push profits that high. If that is all that’s behind the proposed relocation, it will not happen. It will only happen if the owners – to whom the cost of a stadium is crumbs off their collective plate, a net worth in excess, it is said, of $5 billion – have an “ulterior motive” to do more than just slab yet more icing on fortunes already caked with frosting.

They might instead want to refurbish their legacies as civic benefactors by building a facility that will do more to make the I-195 corridor more attractive to entrepreneurs and their employees than yet another public park. Even if it hosted only baseball games, the ballpark would do much more to create well-paying jobs and “buzz” for Rhode Island. The owners of the PawSox would see their reputations rise, in the eyes of the public, from that of expert milkers of public money for their corporations to benefactors willing to step up to the plate and give back at the other end.

You’re joking! You are not serious! Rich people interested in stewardship?

I realize that the very idea contradicts conventional attitudes toward people with money. Call me naïve. All I’m saying is that if the above does not reflect, to some considerable degree, the motives of the PawSox owners, then no stadium is going to be built. Period. But if the owners can let their inner altruism out, then maybe a stadium can be built and the Rhode Island public can be the one to profit from it.  That assumes that state leaders can be relied upon to negotiate a deal that truly benefits the state – and that the team owners want such a deal. Two very big ifs, to be sure, but not entirely inconceivable.

As for the alleged 99 percent opposition to a stadium, those numbers are no less suspect here than when announced by the Kremlin. #38Stadiums is a brilliant stroke of public relations, but pure cynicism is not a very effective game plan for the future of the state. If there is a deal announced that features revenue neutrality or even positive revenue for the state, it will prove that stewardship is a motive for the team owners. Only then will it be time to ask people what they really think of the stadium proposal.

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.
This entry was posted in Architecture, Development, I-195 Redevelopment District, Landscape Architecture, Providence, Rhode Island, Urbanism and planning and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Tidbits of stadium news

  1. Pingback: Pawsox stadium talks dead? | Architecture Here and There

  2. Michael Tyrrell says:

    Well said, David. Lets hope the pieces fall into place. if properly/equitably financed the Stadium proposal would be a strong and welcome catalyst for the Civic (Human-scaled) Architecture+Design we advocate.

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  3. “…pure cynicism is not a very effective game plan for the future of the state.” – we are awash in cynicism and surrounded by our own #38StudiosPTSD

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  4. indisco33 says:

    History of profits for PawSox means this would have to be a LOT of altruism on part of the new owners. Earnings before income tax were just $200k in 2013, jumped to $800K in 2014. EBITS can be manipulated (affected) by things like increased compensation, reduced spending..etc., but neither figure is much profit for multiple owner principals to share and this is BEFORE they spend $60M to build the new stadium. That’s why Skeffington asked for the moon to cover their expenses. I don’t see how this can work.

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  5. I would encourage both the developers and your city officials to look at the recent developments in Birmingham, Alabama. The development of Railroad Park followed by the construction of Regions Field for the Birmingham Barons has created a major economic and cultural renaissance spreading across half of the old downtown core. Prospects for the life of the city coupled with a renewed interest in urban living has development here on par with pre-depression era. I can’t say exactly what lessons you might learn that will apply to your city, but the lessons are here.

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    • The studies that are always mentioned that criticize the development potential of stadiums usually can be parsed to the effect that stadiums can work in cities with the right stuff but in cities for which a stadium proposal is a grasping at straws, not so much. Which is Providence? The former, I believe.

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