Stadium developer: Virus impacts won’t take us down

Stadium developer: Virus impacts won’t take us down

PAWTUCKET – Nothing about the timeline to have professional soccer being played in the city by 2022 has been slowed by the coronavirus that’s brought the world to its knees, said the developer behind a $400 million soccer-centric riverfront project.

If anything, said Brett Johnson of Fortuitous Partners, it’s “just the opposite,” and there’s now motivation to maybe even move the timeline up. Economic development projects such as this one have taken on added importance both locally and nationally during the economic crisis brought on by COVID-19, he said.

Johnson, speaking to the City Council last week as the council took two more votes to help move the project forward, was asked by Councilor Mark Wildenhain if current circumstances might hurt the project, as has been the case for this area in the past. “No,” Johnson replied, speaking by phone through an elaborate remote system set up to allow the meeting to go on.

Johnson expressed gratitude at support from the city that’s been “nothing short of extraordinary.”

The council last Wednesday voted to authorize Mayor Donald Grebien to execute lease agreements with Fortuitous on both the 45 Division St. land and the Tidewater gas plant site across the river. It also approved a revised Pawtucket Redevelopment Plan to conform with the boundaries of a “super TIF” tax financing zone approved by the state to allow the city to move forward with certain projects. At a later date, said Director of Commerce Jeanne Boyle, more specifics on certain public infrastructure projects in the downtown and riverfront area will be identified.

Councilor Michael Araujo said one project he’d like to see is a conversion to two-way traffic on Main Street and the remaining one-way section of Broadway, a move that would be a huge help to businesses. Araujo said he would also love to see a nice pathway developed from the coming commuter rail station to the area of Apex.

These are the types of improvements that are envisioned, said Boyle, upgrades that generate new economic development and new taxes to pay for the bonds that will help pay for the Fortuitous riverfront development.

Councilor John Barry III said he was struck by Johnson’s response on the question about whether the current situation will slow down plans for a stadium and surrounding development. He recalled a developer coming before the city back in 2001, months after 9/11, to say that things had changed so much at that time that a hotel was no longer feasible at 45 Division St. Barry said he’s grateful that Johnson isn’t daunted by this situation.

“I can’t wait to see the lights turn on at the soccer stadium on Taft Street,” he said.

Wildenhain echoed Johnson in praising the Grebien administration for its continued handling of this project and others, saying officials keep hearing from developers what a fantastic job the city is doing with permitting and other steps.

Grebien said officials are focused primarily on the coronavirus pandemic, but is also working to support initiatives that benefit the city and its residents long-term.

“The (city) continues to be excited about the collective progress on the Tidewater Landing project, which will transform Pawtucket’s riverfront and downtown,” he said. “Our view continues to be, as it has from the beginning, that Tidewater Landing is a historic opportunity for the city and the state.”

Grebien thanked the council for approving the redevelopment plan after it was approved at the subcommittee level, as well as the Redevelopment Agency for its work.

The city, working with CommerceRI and Fortuitous Partners, has reached several milestones, including hiring underwriters and bankers, and engaging additional financial advisers and tax incremental financing consultants, said Grebien, “critical steps” in moving forward.

Comments

The truth is the cost of this project has already skyrocketed. This project is speculative at best. Now with the current economic conditions, the speculation increases and so does the interest rate on the bonds.

Additionally, the instability of the hospitality industry will add to to speculation nature. That will also cause rate increase.

If inflation kicks in after crisis is over, the cost of construction materials could increase dramatically.

I think the project could be delayed at least a year, if not longer. To say the conditions will not impact the timeline is disingenuous, in my opinion.

Stay safe all.