If the PawSox do decamp for Worcester in two years, as seems certain but is not, there is blame enough to go around. The team owners say Rhode Island did not really want them, and they got their first taste of scorn during the imbroglio that arose when the governor, Gina Raimondo, flip-flopped against the initial proposal to relocate to Providence.
I favored that proposal but opposed the owners’ ridiculous opening gambit, which was treated by most opponents and the media as if it were a take-it-or-leave-it deal. So when Brown University joined Raimondo in turning tail, and leading owner Jim Skeffington died, the proposal quickly evaporated, and the PawSox future parked in limbo until the Apex proposal to remain in Pawtucket eventually emerged.
Today, if the Providence proposal had been accepted in 2015, the ProvSox or the ProSox (or the PawSox if the name were kept for valid sentimental reasons) might be finishing up their first season in the new stadium.
Two frauds halted that prospect in its tracks. First was the purposeful misinterpretation by the media of the owners’ opening gambit as serious, even though it was obviously a starting point for talks. With the 38Studios scandal still fresh in the public mind, this knowing media falsehood tilted the public against the deal and paved the way for opponents to treat the issue as a private stadium vs. a public park – even though the city’s new waterfront was already festooned with parks. Raimondo’s flip and Brown’s absquatulation sealed the fate of the proposal.
I was for it primarily because I hoped that the stadium, designed as a classic ballpark of old, along the lines of beloved Fenway Park, might have led to a rethink of the modernist style in vogue for redeveloping the I-195 corridor. That is, I had hoped that the stadium would cause the 195 commission to turn thumbs down on modernist design proposals then in the pipeline, and ask their developers to redo them to fit in with the traditional stadium and the mostly traditional neighborhoods of the Jewelry District and Fox Point across the Providence River. The result would have set new development in Providence on a track to strengthen rather than weaken the brand of the city and state, which is, or at least was, based on historical beauty. That would have boosted economic growth in the city and state (including Pawtucket).
Instead, the Providence proposal and its traditional stadium fell through, the modernist 195 projects moved forward, more of the same ilk were proposed, leading to the Fane Tower proposal – which, however overwrought and uncongenial to the city’s historical fabric, is a logical progression of flawed development trends in Providence.
Some blame must accrue to those, like myself, who thought the owners of the PawSox should pay the entire bill for a new stadium, whether it was in Providence or Pawtucket. Since the team is owned by businessmen with a net worth of some $5-$6 billion, that seems reasonable. It is reasonable. But it is not the way such things are done. Thrown into the negotiations mix, first in Providence and then in Pawtucket, this attitude made a deal fair to city and state taxpayers more difficult to achieve politically.
When the venue switched from Providence back to Pawtucket, the bonanza of a team located amid a civic renaissance faded in the imagination of the owners. Even though the Apex site was more alluring than the current site, to the owners it seemed somewhat shopworn, the same-old same-old amid a potential rather than an actual urban revival. It did not glitter.
Flagging enthusiasm on the owners’ part showed in their lack of attention to the design of the stadium. This was evident in the desultory sketches of the ballpark and its surroundings at the Apex site compared with those that accompanied the proposed relocation to Providence.
Remember, Providence and Worcester vie for second place in size to Boston in New England. Compared with Pawtucket, a much larger economic and financial advantage to the state and the team arose from the Providence site at the crossing of two interstates, on the banks of a beautiful river, amid a robust downtown economy. Losing that vision sapped the owners’ interest, to the detriment of Pawtucket’s hopes, and allowed Worcester to worm its way into the owners’ minds if not their hearts. I think the owners probably feel they are stuck with Worcester after their poor treatment by Rhode Island.
But this is not over. Worcester has a signed piece of paper but it does not have a team. Not yet. Reviving the Providence proposal might tip the game back toward Rhode Island.