Johnson to Foundation: Nothing will stop riverfront project

Johnson to Foundation: Nothing will stop riverfront project

Brett Johnson, of Fortuitous Partners, shows off renderings of his planned new stadium and surrounding development on Monday at the annual meeting of the Pawtucket Foundation in The Guild brewery on Main Street. (Breeze photos by Charles Lawrence)

PAWTUCKET – Brett Johnson says there’s a great reason for the extreme confidence he exudes in every interaction: If any venture is going to take him away from his family, “even for a second,” he has to know in advance that it will be a success.

Johnson, of Fortuitous Partners, shared that nugget with The Breeze Monday evening after fielding questions from a skeptical but very enthusiastic group at the annual meeting of the Pawtucket Foundation in The Guild brewery on Main Street.

In a new and more relaxed format allowing attendees to ask questions of Johnson instead of hearing a speech, Johnson did his best to allay concerns among some who have heard big promises of downtown and riverfront development before, telling them he’s “so past that stage” of even having the choice to pull out of plans for his $400 million Tidewater Landing project, and “there is no turning back.”

The soccer-centric project, planned for both sides of the Seekonk River, will build upon exciting progress already happening in Pawtucket, said Johnson, including the coming new commuter rail station now under development near The Guild.

“Pawtucket was well on its way well before Fortuitous ever thought about bringing soccer here,” he said.

Asked by the Pawtucket Foundation’s Jan Brodie how real this project is, he responded, “It couldn’t be any more real,” and there’s is nothing theoretical about this project.

“We will be developing in downtown Pawtucket on the riverfront,” he said, adding that he can’t see a scenario where the development wouldn’t happen. “I couldn’t be more confident.”

Though he gave few details on his progress since an announcement of his planned USL Championship stadium on the riverfront in early December, Johnson did offer perspective on how impactful this development can be.

He told those gathered that this will be a year-round venue for athletic and music events, with multiple professional teams from various sports, including rugby and lacrosse, sharing the stadium. There are only about 20 home soccer games per year, he said, but this facility will be in use just about any time there isn’t snow on the ground, with American football also a possibility.

“The more programming, the better,” he said.

On questions about whether the stadium will be part of the Live Nation music scene, he said he’s been in talks with developers of other soccer stadiums across the country, and sees a scenario where those behind 15,000-seat or 20,000-seat venues create their own music tours. Toward that end, he said he hopes what is currently a planned 7,500-seat stadium in Pawtucket will eventually double in size to 15,000 seats within five or 10 years. Every bit of feedback he’s received from residents is that this market is a prime one for this amenity, Johnson said.

“Not everyone is Beyonce,” he said, and there are plenty of musical acts that fit that 15,000-seat maximum.

Johnson said he is currently focusing all of his attention on two sites, the city-owned 45 Division St. parcel and National Grid-owned Tidewater plant parcel. Though he still wants to develop the Apex site, discussions on that acquisition of that property are happening outside of his purview. Those discussions are ongoing between the Apex owner and the city and R.I. Commerce Corp.

Lori Urso, of the Slater Mill, asked perhaps the most pointed question after noting that it seemed that Johnson is now talking more and more about developing two original sites instead of the original three, with the acquisition of the Apex property continuing to be a challenge. She said Apex is the site everyone is truly excited about, and it’s a “huge piece” of the puzzle. She asked whether the year-round event center will still happen.

Johnson replied that yes, the event center will happen no matter what, and his architects have done a great job fitting it in the plans for the Division Street side of the river if Apex can’t be acquired.

He noted that there are nearly 30 acres of property to develop without Apex, and he’s worked with his team to create new drawings showing all amenities, including stadium, event center, hotel, retail space and commercial space, on the two other parcels.

Johnson on Monday also reiterated his interest in developing new year-round athletic field at McCoy Stadium once it closes to baseball.

From left, Kevin Tracy, co-chairman of the Pawtucket Foundation, Liz Catucci, President/CEO of the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, and Brett Johnson, of Fortuitous Partners, were among those who gathered for the annual meeting of the Pawtucket Foundation at The Guild on Monday. Johnson expanded on his vision for the Tidewater Landing riverfront development, with the centerpiece being a new soccer stadium.