BOSTON (SHNS) – The mayor of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, sounded fairly certain of it, but state and local officials were mum Tuesday about the prospect of Worcester luring the Red Sox AAA affiliate to the Heart of the Commonwealth.
The Pawtucket Red Sox have played just over the border in Rhode Island since the early 1970s, but the team, city and Ocean State have been at odds in recent years over varying proposals to build a new ballpark in Pawtucket or move the team to Providence’s downtown riverfront.
Sensing that the opportunity to keep the PawSox in Pawtucket is slipping away, Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien held a “now or never” press conference Tuesday to make one last attempt at keeping the team in his city and suggested that Worcester was about to snatch the team away.
“The Worcester, Mass., deal is real, make no mistake about it,” Grebien said at a noon press conference, according to a livestream hosted by Worcester Magazine. “The city of Worcester and the state of Massachusetts understand what has been so hard for us to break through in the General Assembly: what this means to economic development and the opportunity for this community.”
Grebien said the deal offered by Worcester “is rumored to be cheaper for the team” than what Pawtucket and the state of Rhode Island could offer.
Worcester City Manager Edward Augustus said Tuesday morning that the city has not finalized any deal to build a ballpark for the PawSox, though he acknowledged the city’s efforts to lure the team.
“We continue to have regular conversations with the PawSox and we did have another meeting with the team last week. We look forward to continuing those conversations and seeing where they lead,” Augustus, a former state senator, said in a statement.
On Friday, PawSox Chairman Larry Lucchino, Vice-Chairman Mike Tamburro, General Manager Dan Rea and Chief Financial Officer Joe Goldberg attended a three-hour lunch meeting with Augustus, according to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
“Discussions are continuing,” the paper reported Lucchino as saying last week, “and other than that we have no comment.”
Two consultants hired to Worcester City Hall in August — former state transportation secretary Jeffrey Mullan and Smith College economist Andrew Zimbalist — were also in attendance, the Telegram reported.
Asked about the state’s role in Worcester’s attempts to draw the minor league Red Sox, Gov. Charlie Baker’s spokesman Brendan Moss did not directly answer questions posed to him but said the administration is “always willing to assist municipal partners in exploring potential economic development initiatives.”
But on Dec. 1, Baker spoke to the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce and indicated that he supports the city’s initiative.
“We’ve basically told the leaders at the PawSox and frankly, a lot of the locals, that we’d be willing to work with any site that they deemed appropriate, and I do know that the folks from Worcester have put together a pretty compelling package,” Baker said earlier this month. “Our message to Worcester and to the PawSox is that as they develop that proposal, we’re interested in participating.”
Whether the state is now participating in the process is unclear.
Samantha Kaufman, the spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, said “it is too early to comment” and declined to respond to questions posed by the News Service about the state economic development arm’s role in discussions of relocating the PawSox to Worcester or Massachusetts.
Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce President Tim Murray, a former lieutenant governor and mayor of Worcester, said the chamber has been “actively supporting” the city as it pursues the PawSox and has provided information to both the city and team. He said landing the Red Sox minor league affiliate would be a coup for the city, which is in the midst of a large-scale downtown revitalization project.
“A lot of economic development momentum is already underway in the city, but certainly this would be a feather in the cap,” Murray said Tuesday. “But whether it happens or not, the good news is that it’s played a catalytic role in helping jumpstart the conversation about the redevelopment of the Wyman-Gordon property, which is about 22 acres that have been vacant for 20 to 30 years. Several developers have come forward and expressed an interest in developing it, whether the PawSox come or not.”
The Wyman-Gordon property is in Worcester’s Canal District, a part of the city that has been the focus of redevelopment efforts in recent years. The area has seen a rise in restaurants and shops in the neighborhood and the city’s minor league hockey team recently opened a practice facility there.
Grebien, the mayor of Pawtucket, on Tuesday referred to the PawSox leaving Rhode Island as “doomsday” and urged Rhode Island lawmakers to take action on a deal to build a new stadium as soon as their sessions resume in January.
“Time is against us … it’s about the urgency for the General Assembly to act in January,” he said. “It’s important for everyone to understand that Rhode Island is in jeopardy of losing the PawSox, Pawtucket is in jeopardy of losing this opportunity for economic development around that new ballpark.”
To move the team from the aging McCoy Stadium to a new $97 million stadium elsewhere in Pawtucket, the PawSox are seeking $15 million in city and $23 million in state financing. Grebien said the team leaving the state would have an impact on state revenues of more than $2 million annually.
Last week, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo told the Providence Journal that she would not get involved in a bidding war with Massachusetts over the PawSox.
“I think it would be really sad if we lost the PawSox to Worcester … but no, I am not going to get into a bidding war. We can’t afford a bidding war,” she said.