PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Some Rhode Island lawmakers say they're wary of gambling on the Pawtucket Red Sox's move to Providence after their costly bet on 38 Studios, but at least two prominent lawmakers are on board with the move.
The president of the Boston Red Sox and a group of Rhode Island businessmen announced Monday they had purchased the franchise and want to relocate. They say they expect to build a new stadium in Providence with their own money, but may seek public subsidies for other parts of the project.
Such a request would likely face some resistance, skepticism and scrutiny in the State House, where the failed investment in 38 Studios — Ex-Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling's video game company that went bankrupt after receiving a $75 million state-backed loan —continues to resonate.
"It's that pall that hangs over everything the state looks at," said Democratic Sen. Louis DiPalma.
Democratic Rep. Patricia Serpa said she wouldn't support issuing bonds to support moving the Triple-A baseball club, and her colleagues are "gun shy" too.
"I think 38 Studios is still on the forefront of everyone's minds, and how we were duped and misled with that deal," she said. "We're older and wiser. So yes, I think 38 Studios has everything to do with it."
House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello feels differently. He said he's excited a new stadium will be built in Providence and he'll work with the new owners to help "build an economic engine for our state and the capital city."
"This riverfront stadium will serve as a catalyst for an area that holds great potential for development and it will boost the morale of our citizens," he said in a statement.
The investors are eyeing land along the Providence River for the new ballpark. Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio said the proposed relocation would complement existing development efforts, and could be a "real economic boon for the area."
Deputy Minority Leader Rep. Patricia Morgan, however, said she's "very skeptical" of private companies asking for public funds.
"Let them raise their own money. Let them do it privately," said Morgan, a Republican. "It's not up to the taxpayers to take care of these very wealthy men."
Other lawmakers said helping the owners is just not something the state can afford right now. Rhode Island faces a nearly $200 million deficit in fiscal 2016.
Democratic Rep. Charlene Lima said she doesn't want taxpayer money invested into a "hobby." Republican Rep. Antonio Giarrusso said the funds would be better spent fixing the state's infrastructure and educational system. Sen. James Sheehan said he would rather see offices at the site, than a ballpark that's only used part of the year.
The owners have not submitted any formal requests to the state. Investor James Skeffington told The Providence Journal they may ask the state to give them some of the land opened up by the relocation of Interstate 195. He said they may also want a tax break on the ballpark and a leasing or sub-leasing arrangement.
Pawtucket officials have said the team's departure would be devastating.
Democratic Rep. Raymond Hull, whose district includes parts of Providence and North Providence, said he's against the idea of pitting Providence and Pawtucket against each other.
"If they want to build it and come to Providence, let them use their own money," he said.
Democratic Rep. Raymond Gallison, chairman of the House Finance Committee, said any proposal from the owners would be given the same consideration as anything else that comes before the committee.
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