I’ve seen some pretty atrocious lines of argument in favor of building a stadium in Providence, and rather than give each one its own bit of time, I’ll just condense them here.
Sports teams can’t fail
Yes, they can. In fact, the Pawtucket Red Sox have already gone bankrupt once. And when teams fail, it often means they abandon the city they were in, leaving that city with an empty stadium.
No one else is building on the I-95 land
Putting aside that the parcel the PawSox want was marked for parkland, this is true; however, this is a very short-sighted reason to build a stadium. Empty land is always money in the bank for a state. It is not an inherently bad thing for there to be a large empty space on the perimeter of downtown Providence. It can always be sold when conditions are right – it can be rented out for uses that require large areas of open space before then (remember the Gravity Games). However, empty stadiums cannot be easily sold.
However, if Rhode Island is willing to pay $120 million to build a stadium here (plus a deal to be tax-free), then it begs the question: will the State be offering equivalent cash giveaways to everyone else? Because if every parcel of land gets a free cash giveaway and is tax-free for three decades, well, we could have a small-scale building bonanza. Hell, I’ll buy a parcel of land if I get $120 million and have to pay no taxes either. Next up, the Superman Building gets its free giveaway!
This would be a devastating blow to our state’s psyche
This will probably be the most likely reason this passes. Politicians don’t want to be “the person who lost the PawSox” – we can already see that with the reaction from Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien when the move was announced. First he was fighting it, then it was obviously he had glumly faced the inevitable.
That said, give Rhode Islanders more credit than that. Yes, it will suck that we and people in neighboring Bristol County, MA can no longer easily take our children to a baseball game. We will get over it. You know what will make people a lot happier? Serious economic development, the kind where they have jobs at the end of it. Then people will be able to spend their money on plenty of things, and they’ll get on with the lives. Kind of like they did before the PawSox showed up in 1973.
You often see this go hand-in-hand with the “Worcester [or somewhere else] will get them!” argument. Okay, great. I’m glad Worcester has a pile of money to burn. Here in Rhode Island, we don’t have a pile of money to burn. We can’t afford our pensions, we can’t afford our Medicaid… any state leader who seriously talks about tightening our belt and then turns around and supports the deal with the PawSox is a hypocrite and a thief.
Here’s the thing: having a AAA baseball team will not turn Worcester into an amazing destination. By a lot of metrics, Worcester is doing better than Providence. But all the genuine success in the world has not turned them into Providence. People still think of Worcester as a terrible, post-industrial wasteland. Good city to drive through, but why would you go there if you didn’t have to? Providence has far more prestige. The Creative Capital branding campaign is good (orange P aside) because it succinctly says what we are. South of Boston, Providence is perceived as the region’s largest cultural center – arguably, Providence is New England’s second city. Having the PawSox is irrelevant to Providence’s place in the world. Having the PawSox doesn’t enhance Pawtucket’s perception (I’d argue they should put more resources into solidifying themselves as the craft-brewing capital of Rhode Island). And it won’t make a dent in Worcester’s position as New England’s armpit.
I understand Rhode Island is a bit of an emotional rut right now, because our state is still reeling from the fallout of the Great Recession and we’re unsure of our place in the world. But it’s exactly these kinds of shortsighted, insidery, nostalgic deals that have led us to the situation. Our inability to think ahead (and some Rhode Islanders actively resist any sort of long-term, strategic thinking) has led us to this situation. Our penchant for big flashy attempts to jumpstart our economy is exactly what got us into the 38 Studios mess, and why you see such a public backlash against this.
We are ignoring that successful economies are not built on flash, they are built on hard work. If this deal is made by the General Assembly this session, there will be no way they could have put in the hard work required to assess it. It will be a glaring piece of evidence that Rhode Island’s government can be used as a wealth extraction tool for the rich, powerful, and well-connected.
God save Rhode Island from the Red Sox organization and their affiliates.