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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

PawSox’s decision is a Hobson’s Choice

They really need to stay in Pawtucket
By Will Collette
Photo by Will Collette. I took this shot from a seat that cost me less than
$10! You can't beat minor league baseball.

Lots of cities across America have found themselves in situations where they are being held hostage by sports franchises angling for a one-sided deal that screws taxpayers in return for being graced with their presence.

The surprise announcement by the new owners of the Pawtucket Red Sox puts the state in a bind. 

It’s a Rhode Island-scale bind, not anywhere near the billion-dollar stadium rip-offs that Dallas faced to keep the Cowboys or New York faced to keep the Yankees. But big enough to hurt at Rhode Island if we decide to pay off the blackmailers to keep a great team here in the state.

While I was born in Central Falls, I grew up in Pawtucket and vividly remember the old, pre-PawSox McCoy Stadium which was through most of my childhood, a moldering shamble, not to mention a pretty dangerous place. It was a blight on the whole surrounding neighborhood until it was saved by the PawSox.

It turned into a great place to watch baseball. Minor league stadiums, in general, are a lot of fun – smaller, friendlier, cheaper and every seat in the house is a good seat. But the revived McCoy Stadium was especially nice for a summer evening out.

You almost didn’t care all that much how the game went because the general atmosphere was light, communal and a lift to the spirit.

It’s no wonder Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien says he feels like he got punched in the gut.
I have to say I am not satisfied with the new owners’ whole pitch. Obviously they want a new, bigger and glitzier stadium – almost certainly paid for by the taxpayers- but that’s not going to mean more attendance since minor league ball is not ever going to draw like a major league franchise.

The most likely spot in Providence, which seems to be their choice, should they decide to stay in Rhode Island, is to take up a major chunk of the newly opened land created by the I-195 relocation. But is that the best use of this primo piece of real estate

Already there are doubts (click here) about whether using the land for a sports stadium is the best use of that land. Understand that you will be hearing from the Building Trades about the importance of the construction jobs the stadium will generate. 

Let’s stipulate that there will be construction jobs created by the stadium, but the fact is that any of the proposed plans for that new land will generate lots of  new construction work.

Indeed, I think there are lots more construction jobs to be had if the re-development of that land stays focused on such ideas as creating space for information tech, knowledge industry, education, artisans or any other kinds of enterprises that will employ lots of people full-time.

Build a stadium and you’re using lots of space for one-shot construction jobs and seasonal, low-wage employment during baseball season.

It’s hard not to cave in to economic blackmail – and that’s what this is – with the added emotional factor of a much-beloved franchise.

Much beloved in Pawtucket, that is, where folks feel a bit like they’ve been kicked in the cojones right now. Pawtucket has been slowly but surely on the up-swing in recent years, but this move is a terrible reversal for the city. 

They will be left with a huge hole in not only in their local economy, but also in their geography. I.e. what the hell do you do with an old stadium and its parking lots, recently refurbished but nonetheless old, in a city that is still iffy.

Let’s face it, Pawtucket is screwed.

And very likely Providence will be, too.

Here’s how fellow blogger Beth Comery with the Providence Daily Dose looks at the deal an what’s in it for her city:
“Just slow the f*#k down everybody!!! This is a big decision and requires some calm reflection… This is not just sad for Pawtucket but a terrible idea for Providence, and I would like to see our elected officials giving this some thought, and asking the right questions, instead of just going along rah-rah-rah with these profit-seeking boosters…
According to Channel 12, “. . . [the owners] want to build a ballpark in downtown Providence with their own money, but they will ask state and city lawmakers to help ‘bring about this dream.'” They expect the state will “give up part of the land it owns at no cost.”…
Most importantly, taxpayer supported stadiums have become notorious boondoggles — the only beneficiaries can be found in the sky boxes. See: The Wall Street Journal, Publicly funded sports arenas add little to local economy. Also: The Atlantic, If you build it, they might not come: The risky economics of sports stadiums.
[Providence] Mayor Elorza told Channel 12, “Anything that can be done to make this happen will be done . . .” City Council President Luis Aponte sounds a bit more circumspect.
It’s hard to say NO to this kind of blackmail, especially when you have some reasonable concerns that the blackmailers may make good on their threats to take their team someplace else. In this instance, they might, although there are other minor league teams scattered across New England already. But the PawSox are the only Triple-A team, and that gives them some leverage.

But throwing taxpayer dollars at this threat just seems wrong to me, on a moral level and on an economic one, too, since their first choice is land that could be much more of an engine for economic vitality in Providence than as a stadium.

I’d hate to see the PawSox go, but as things stand, I’d urge the state and the city of Providence to resist this blatant extortion, even if we lose the team.