The politics of the proposed new stadium for the Pawtucket Red Sox – the PawSox – are beyond me, but a new financial package just proposed by its leading opponent, Nicholas Mattiello, speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, surely moves the needle forward. So let’s take a look at the look of the ballpark.
Actually, there does not seem to be much of any look in mind. The politics have crowded out the aesthetics. The PawSox conceived of the new stadium as reflecting the form of Fenway Park, including the Green Monster. The first new stadium design, the one that was to have arisen in Providence, was a classic ballpark of the old school in the Fenway tradition. Beautiful. After that tanked for silly reasons and a new location in downtown Pawtucket arose, a pair of vaguely disappointing designs showed up simultaneously, neither appearing to carry any official preference. One seemed a bit more traditional and the other more modernist. It was very hard to tell, really, but the new commercial buildings planned for nearby hinted at each design’s sensibility. Last fall, a more starkly modernist version, by college students from Yale, emerged without a Green Monster but with frontrunner status.
The latest alternative financial plan seems to place more reliance on the associated commercial development doing well enough to help pay off the stadium bonds. All of the plans rely on the hope that PawSox ticket sales will improve, and that baseball fans and other visitors to the Bucket will spur spinoff and renewal. Whatever plan is chosen, there is an important aesthetic component upon which the plan’s success will hinge.
One of the hurdles that any plan faces is the urban renewal and modern architecture that have defaced downtown Pawtucket since the 1960s, making it hard to foster economic revival. Leveraging the city’s historical character and sense of place as a brand for its revival will be tough if the stadium and downtown don’t pull in the same direction. If that direction is traditional it will be easier; if that direction is modernist, it will be harder.
If some form of stadium legislation does come to pass, why go through these gyrations in search of a new design? Why not just build the stadium designed for Providence in Pawtucket?
Some would argue that because modern architecture is more prevalent in Pawtucket, the stadium should pick up on those cues. But why dig Pawtucket even deeper into the hole of its midcentury-modern mistake? To improve the chances for a stadium project that works, it would be wiser to cue off the historic Slater Mill that we already know attracts tourists rather than the dump of Main Street that we know does not even attract shoppers.
In fact, Pawtucket should take its inspiration from the commercial boom blooming on Providence’s Westminster Street. All smart cities try to replicate models of success. The Providence stadium design, edited for the Pawtucket location, would make it much easier for Pawtucket to smack a home run.
In any event, it is time to begin this discussion.
(The Providence-based stadium design from 2015 is atop this post and the Pawtucket-based designs are below, with the Yale proposal at the bottom.)