Council steps away from vote against new stadium

Council steps away from vote against new stadium

CUMBERLAND – Members of the Town Council last week declined to insert Cumberland into the great PawSox debate.

The council indefinitely tabled a proposed resolution from Cumberland resident and PawSox critic Pat Ford, placed on the agenda by Council President Peter Bradley. Only Bradley and Councilor Scott Schmitt voted against tabling the resolution.

Other council members expressed opposition to supporting a resolution that starts with the statement that “taxpayer money has no place subsidizing private investments.”

Ford, who serves as chairman of the Libertarian Party of Rhode Island, calls himself a “free market capitalist” who wishes “nothing but success” to the Pawtucket Red Sox, but said none of the cost of the stadium should be borne by taxpayers.

Ford and other supporters of the resolution chose Cumberland as their first target community because Mayor Bill Murray previously wrote an opinion piece supporting financing of the new stadium.

“The Libertarian Party of Rhode Island is taking the lead on this issue, standing against the use of any public money for this private investment. We are calling on city and town councils to take an official stand as well,” Ford said. “As a Cumberland resident, I find it unconscionable that our town’s businesses should be forced to support a competing business in a neighboring city. Where is the benefit to Cumberland businesses, or to Cumberland taxpayers?”

The resolution states that a taxpayer-subsidized entertainment facility represents a “direct economic threat to Cumberland businesses.”

The majority of council members weren’t buying it, saying they felt the issue had little to do with Cumberland.

Council members were reminded that by voting for the resolution, they would be voting and adopting the entirety of the resolution as the opinion for the town of Cumberland. Public-private partnerships have often worked well here, including at Highland Corporate Park and with the planned $11.5 million reconstruction of Broad Street, said Murray.

Councilor Schmitt said he believes there’s “a world of difference” between a tax treaty for a company like CVS employing so many and an investment in a single business like the Pawtucket Red Sox. Generally speaking, he said, he’s not in favor of public investment in private business.

Schmitt said he wasn’t particularly thrilled with the wording of the resolution, though he said he strongly agreed with the part that called for voters to have a say on the stadium.

Lori Urso, executive director at Slater Mill in Pawtucket, located across from where a new stadium would be built, called Ford’s resolution “reckless and irresponsible.” The opposition expressed to public-private partnerships was “ridiculous and I beg you not to” support it, she said. Urso urged Cumberland “not to be a party to giving away another of (Rhode Island’s) recreational institutions. The International League model for stadiums is public-private partnerships, she said. Criticism of PawSox owners as selfish billionaires is also off, she said. Who else is going to invest $45 million into a stadium?

Earlier in the day last Wednesday, Ford sent out a notice through his talk radio show about the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce supporting financing of the stadium. The notice called the chamber “the poster child for corporate cronyism” and pointed out that signers of the support letter from the chamber included Bank of America, Fidelity and Twin River Casino.

John Gregory, veteran CEO of the Northern Rhode Island Chamber, joked about the suggestion of cronyism from the organization, saying he and others support a new stadium because it’s a good deal for Rhode Island. He acknowledged that the state has had “some very bad deals” in the past.

“Not one business has ever told me that they’re hurt by the PawSox,” he said. Gregory said no one can say that an $83 million investment “isn’t going to have a positive impact up and down the Valley.” Approving a resolution against the stadium would be “very, very premature,” he said.

PawSox Vice Chairman Mike Tamburro, in an impassioned speech, told the council he’s spent his life building the PawSox brand, growing it from 70,000 fans to hundreds of thousands of fans, including families and children. This stadium deal is about much more than the economic development projections he and others believe will be met.

“It’s not strictly dollars and cents,” he said.

The PawSox are one of the most philanthropic organizations in sports, said Tamburro, and a great recreational resource for many.

These are special times in a state where many have become very negative, said Tamburro.

“Maybe we’ve been burned,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean we have to be afraid to do great things.”

Rhode Island has a private business willing to invest $45 million into a public facility, he said. If that’s a school or library, everyone would be hailing the deal.

Tamburro shot back at Ford’s suggestion that minor league stadiums aren’t living up to their billing, saying most stadiums he referenced were not affiliated with organized major league baseball. Other International League stadiums have done very well, he said.

Tamburro said he could be retired now, and has little stake in the future of the team.

“I’m in this to make sure we don’t lose this ball club for our state,” he said.

Several other Rhode Island residents, most from Warwick, spoke against the deal, saying the state shouldn’t be in the business of financing stadiums and warning against “bad deals” when the state has so many other problems to invest in.

Councilor Bob Shaw thanked everyone for coming out, but said he doesn’t think the local council is the right arena for the debate. He said it would be “pretty inappropriate” for him to vote on the resolution, especially since it would give the perception “that Cumberland stands for no partnership with private enterprise.” Statewide debates on the stadium proposal start on today, Thursday, said Shaw, a much better place for this discussion.

Councilor Tom Kane said a number of public-private partnerships have been great for Cumberland, and expressed opposition to agreeing to such a broad statement. Those partnerships do have a place in economic development, he said. Cumberland officials are not the ones making the decision on the PawSox deal, he said, and he believes state lawmakers will get all of the information they need before making a decision.

“They’re the ones who ultimately have a say,” he said.

Prior to the vote to table the proposed resolution, Murray also offered support for the stadium proposal, which calls for $15 million from Pawtucket and $23 million from the state, to be paid back with revenues from the park and surrounding development. He said not approving the deal and letting the PawSox leave would be “a disaster for everyone.”

Murray said he wasn’t sure why the issue was even going to the council, but Bradley retorted that it was because the mayor spoke out about the issue on his own, a move the council president took issue with.

Comments

Schools are falling apart, the roads are terrible yet we are being asked to fund a pet project for a few wealthy good ol' boys. I say no thank you. A new ball park sounds nice but on my dime. Enough is enough.

Schools are falling apart because the monies that were set apart for maintenance and repair we used elsewhere. The roads are a whole other story if the pension liability wasn't thru the roof ( tried but can"t get the exact amount) then we could repair the roads and bridges. The good old boys you speak of have set themselves up well on our hard earned tax dollars. I could really care if the Pawsox move to timbuktu but our problems in this state are deeper than a ballfield. Got to in on Smith Hill to play ball. TERM LIMITS !