Most Rhode Islanders living outside the Oak Hill neighborhood have never seen the site of the proposed new soccer stadium in Pawtucket.
Because right now it’s a pain in the neck to find and craning your neck to peek over the 95 North barrier at high speed is more than a little dangerous.
Nonetheless, aided by GPS and then donning mandatory helmets, plenty of folks showed up last Friday at the “groundbreaking” ceremony for the Tidewater Landing Stadium. Lots of speeches were made and then shovels went into a makeshift pile of dirt extending long enough for the team owner/developer, public officials and soccer industry honchos to line up for their photos.
It’s a real construction site. The land is cleared, now healthy after tens of millions spent on the environmental cleanup. Capped by black soil, white lines show you the outline of the “pitch.” Look across over the river and you see Festival Pier of School Street. What you see in the published architectural drawings now feels feasible.
Gov. Dan McKee’s tie-breaking vote weeks prior at the Rhode Island Commerce board allowed for an amended finance plan and took the project off pause.
In truth, the groundbreaking was slightly premature because the deal is not quite done.
For what is now phase one, the city needs to secure $10 million more, and rather than writing the check, Mayor Don Grebien is still sniffing federal money and adjusting a tax agreement with the developer.
Once that is finished with his City Council, the strategy calls for the developer to build the stadium for the 2024 season and the ancillary development, which is key to the overall project viability, will be forced to come. Either by act of the state legislature, or a governor tapping federal housing money, or by divine intervention, there will be the full enchilada, which is the completed phase two across the river with residential and commercial development linked by a pedestrian bridge.
There’s no disputing the project is a risk. Thankfully, the public money is mostly held until the private money goes in and the facility is ready for play.
There are plenty of naysayers from the “no” voting Commerce Board members, to academic types, to newly self-appointed media economists, to the challengers for governor.
Just this week, the 7 percent-polling bomb-thrower of the race, Matt Brown, during a WPRO radio debate, called the project “Tidewater-Gate.” That tired kind of line titillated local media, who sniff like dogs for claims, legitimate or not, of corruption. The headline serves as journalistic clickbait.
But speculative doesn’t mean dirty.
All deals of this kind are risky. Buttoned up or not before the ceremonial spade enters the dirt, there are always moving parts.
McKee inherited this deeply wounded project and found a way to give it “a shot in the ahm.”
As you judge it, with your vote or otherwise, try this: Swing by the empty and decaying McCoy Stadium left abandoned by the PawSox and then work your way across downtown on Taft Street and look out on the outlined pitch. Imagine the lights of the stadium now visible from the highway and the bustle of human traffic and commerce on both sides of the river.
You may see that for the city of Pawtucket, it’s a legitimate step in recovery and a pretty cool gateway for the Blackstone Valley.
Dan Yorke is the PM Drive Host on 99.7/AM 630 WPRO, Dan Yorke State of Mind weekends on Fox Providence/WPRI 12 and owns communications/crisis consulting firm DYCOMM LLC.