Officials: $400 million project just what the doctor ordered

Officials: $400 million project just what the doctor ordered

A rendering shows the view of what the TIDEWATER LANDING PROJECT could look like looking up the Seekonk River toward I-95, with a planned new soccer stadium shown at left.
Apex not an absolute necessity; could Hasbro be next in line?

PAWTUCKET – A $400 million development plan for the downtown should take care of three of the city’s most problematic properties when it comes to revitalizing the waterfront: The former Tidewater plant, the Apex site, and the vacant parcel at 45 Division St.

But even if the developers behind the planned 7,500-seat soccer stadium and surrounding amenities in the Tidewater Landing project, Fortuitous Partners, aren’t able to come to terms on purchasing Apex, they emphasized Monday that this project will still work in a revised form.

All of the hurdles that helped end the previous bid to build a downtown stadium for the Pawtucket Red Sox seem to be absent here, with:

• A financing framework already approved by the General Assembly and agreed to by the developer;

• The lack of a mandate to buy Apex;

• And state and local contributions going toward public infrastructure instead of the stadium itself.

Though the development isn’t contingent on acquiring Apex, said Brett Johnson, founder and partner of Fortuitous Partners and chairman of the Phoenix Rising Football Club in Arizona, the developers would love to acquire it to house an indoor sports event center and hotel. Officials said Monday they remain in “positive and productive” talks with the owners of Apex.

Fifteen months after the announcement that the Pawtucket Red Sox owners had voted to take the team out of the city, officials were hailing a sports project they said will be a more than adequate replacement in terms of economic development.

“I couldn’t wave a magic wand and ask for a better site,” Johnson told WPRO’s Dan Yorke Monday evening, adding that this area “checks every box” for what the developers could ever want for their 365-day-a-year entertainment complex. He said local Hispanic, Portuguese, Italian and West African populations are helping to drive the popularity of soccer in Rhode Island, a sport that is consistently in the top 10 for TV viewership.

“Soccer is the future,” said Gov. Gina Raimondo at the Blackstone Valley Visitor Center Monday, noting that both viewership and soccer league numbers are growing.

What about McCoy and Hasbro?

For those wondering how Monday’s announcement of the Tidewater Landing project might impact McCoy Stadium or the prospect of keeping Hasbro in Pawtucket, Johnson had some encouraging words.

He said pulling in Hasbro as a development partner at Apex would be “a dream,” adding that this development should be “very attractive to corporations” such as the city-based toymaker. He also said he and his partners have interest in redeveloping McCoy Stadium in the future, saying the intent would be to create a sports field complex that could help address the field space crunch in Rhode Island.

Hasbro representatives were said to be very interested in developing a new corporate headquarters near the previous proposed baseball stadium at Apex, and that interest reportedly dissipated once the PawSox announced that the deal was off.

Mayor Donald Grebien said the question about what to do with McCoy will remain an open-ended one, with options considered next year.

Is this deal actually better?

Asked if the Fortuitous Partners plan is a better one than the previous bid for a baseball stadium, officials said the city and state are “absolutely” in a better position to gain more revenue. This project involved seven times more in private investment and the “mix of uses is far superior,” said Secretary of Commerce Stefan Pryor. The potential “catalytic impact” here “far exceeds what the PawSox proposal” involved, he said, noting that the baseball stadium would have included only minimal ancillary development around it.

The announcement from Fortuitous Partners and state and local officials Monday represents the single largest economic development project in Pawtucket’s history.

The Tidewater Landing development will include:

• The 7,500-seat soccer stadium at the Tidewater plant site;

• A substantial mixed-use development with more than 200 housing units and 100,000 square feet of retail, food and beverage, and other community space;

• An indoor sports event center, with sports such as basketball, volleyball, dancing and cheerleading, among others;

• A 200-room hotel;

• And 200,000 square feet of commercial office space.

The layout of everything is subject to change, said Pryor.

In addition to being home to a USL soccer team, the stadium would also be available for other uses including concerts and public sports uses including football, lacrosse, rugby and field hockey, and amateur soccer.

The project, said Raimondo and Grebien, will transform Pawtucket’s waterfront with hundreds of thousands of square feet of new development, including a new professional soccer team that will compete in the USL Championship, the second division of professional soccer in the U.S.

“Today is an exciting first step toward a $400 million investment in Pawtucket’s future,” said Raimondo in a statement.

“This is an opportunity of a lifetime for the city of Pawtucket, the Blackstone Valley, and the state of Rhode Island,” added Grebien. “This $400 million investment in one of Pawtucket’s opportunity zones will create jobs and will be a transformative economic development at the gateway into our state. It’s a natural expansion from our beautiful Slater Mill National Park to the city’s underutilized riverfront. The Blackstone Valley is prime with development opportunities. The Fortuitous project along with the Pawtucket/Central Falls commuter rail stop are game changers. The Fortuitous Partners vision aligns with what the residents of Pawtucket need and deserve.”

The project will include expanded waterfront access through a riverwalk park connecting downtown to the currently underutilized riverfront, a new pedestrian bridge across the Seekonk River, and other key infrastructure upgrades. In addition to a new multi-use stadium, Fortuitous Partners is expected to include a new indoor sports complex, market-rate and workforce housing, a hotel, and commercial office space. It is estimated that the full project will create more than 2,500 direct and indirect construction jobs and more than 1,200 direct, ongoing jobs once completed.

Public money to public uses

The developer intends to finance the stadium privately. The public investment would be primarily focused on infrastructure and other non-stadium components.

The total amount of the public investment, coming from both state and city revenues, will be determined during a 120-day due diligence period. The project is expected to easily pay for itself, said officials. Preliminary estimates indicate that taxes received by the state and city over 30 years have the potential to be as much as double the public investment.

The public investment is expected to be approximately 20 percent of project costs, in the range of $70 million to $90 million total, with an anticipated $60 million to $80 million of that total to be derived from state revenue, with the rest from the city.

Contributions in state and city funds will be drawn from new taxes from the project, said Pryor.

“The finalized plan will incorporate strong taxpayer protections for both the state of Rhode Island and the city of Pawtucket,” states a release. “Provisions will ensure the public pays for performance according to agreed-upon project milestones, which will be determined in the coming months.”

Johnson all-in on Pawtucket

“Tidewater Landing is a phenomenal opportunity for the city and region, and we are incredibly excited to be working with the state of Rhode Island and the city of Pawtucket to make it a reality,” said Johnson. “The initiative will transform the area by maximizing Pawtucket’s many assets to create a vibrant live, work, and play environment.”

The development plan is winning plenty of praise from downtown business owners this week. Jeremy Duffy, co-founder of The Guild brewery up the road, said in a tweet that he was a big supporter of keeping the PawSox in Pawtucket and building a new stadium.

“Honestly, this is a better plan,” he said. “A more comprehensive approach to development and rebuilding Pawtucket while bringing a new and exciting product (soccer) to R.I. Can’t wait.”

The project is focused on the Tidewater and Division Street sites that are currently owned by National Grid and the city. The development sites, phasing, construction costs and schedule for the project will be finalized during the due diligence period.

The goal is for a USL professional soccer team tentatively called the Rhode Island Riptides to kick off in their new stadium in time for the 2022 season. Fortuitous has secured the exclusive rights to the USL Championship team in Rhode Island and will build an ownership group headlined by Johnson. Fortuitous and the USL team, during the due diligence period, will enter into a long-term commitment to the stadium.

Important step forward

“Today we take an important step toward the revitalization of Pawtucket and the building of a new Rhode Island destination,” said Pryor. “This project involves the creation of a vital hub of sports, commercial, and residential activity; it also has the potential to be catalytic, sparking additional development in areas beyond the project boundaries.”

Pawtucket Tax Increment Financing district legislation passed by the General Assembly in June and the federal opportunity zone designation for the proposed project area are two major factors in making this project feasible, said Pryor.

In April, Commerce and the City of Pawtucket issued a joint RFP seeking proposals for the reuse of McCoy Stadium & Pawtucket Downtown Redevelopment. Six proposals were reviewed, and officials said Fortuitous Partners was “clearly the most viable for the development.”

Pryor commended Grebien for his “utmost dedication and passion in pursuit of this project,” a sentiment echoed by Raimondo, who joked that she’ll be glad not to take the mayor’s “twice daily” phone calls on the matter.

“I say this with affection: the mayor has been like a dog on a bone in a good way. He’s got a big heart for Pawtucket,” she said.

Monday’s press conference in the downtown featured student soccer players from Shea and Tolman, who entered with Raimondo wearing United Soccer League scarves.

Johnson, a Brown University graduate with “deep ties to Rhode Island,” showed a video detailing the company’s plan for Tidewater Landing.

“I can’t believe I’m standing here in front of you today; this is an absolute dream come true,” he said.

There are more than 10,000 children in USL’s youth programs, he said, and he plans to develop similar connections with local youth soccer programs.

Johnson said R.I. is “one of the best in the market without a professional soccer team.”

“We have a lot of work to do before our kickoff in 2022,” he said.

An aerial gives an idea where the various aspects of the TIDEWATER LANDING PROJECT will be located along the Pawtucket riverfront.

Comments

I was very critical of the so-called 'budget hawks' who essentially took Pawsox baseball and flung it into the Seekonk River a year and a half ago. They took a PR hit for this and now these same people are all for this project that will be SO much better than anything the Pawsox were offering. Yeah, sure. They're trying REAL hard to get people to forget their mistake with the Pawsox.

So let's see. This would require a larger public investment than the Pawsox proposal. The centerpiece is a soccer stadium for what would be a Division 2 team. Soccer... a GREAT sport but not as popular in the U.S. It's also a sport with no success in Rhode Island. And this Division 2 team would have to compete with a MLS team only 20-25 minutes north... a MLS team that is far more established and plays in a more attractive venue with Patriot Place next door.

The 'leaders' of Rhode Island waved bye to a good corporate citizen for 50 years with a great track record and a direct pipeline to Fenway and now these same people are saying how this is so much better.

There's no telling what additional private investment would have been generated by a new Pawsox stadium but there were people who owned property adjacent to (or near) the proposed stadium who were lining up to develop their land.

We'll see how this goes but methinks the Rhode Island taxpayer has the great potential to get scorched. A new Pawsox Stadium made much more sense for the city of Pawtucket and now Worcester will realize those benefits.