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LIVE: Whitcomb Says Chances of PawSox Going to Worcester are Slim

Saturday, July 15, 2017


Robert Whitcomb

GoLocal’s Robert Whitcomb joined GoLocal LIVE on Friday and argued that the chances of the Pawtucket Red Sox moving to Worcester are slim, despite inquiries from Worcester and Massachusetts officials.

Worcester, he said, doesn’t contain the necessary population, and isn’t located on route 95 like Pawtucket. Further, the fact that the team will be asking for a similar amount of help from taxpayers won’t make their potential move as appetizing to Massachusetts residents, Whitcomb said.

“As much as I like some of the stuff in Worcester--it’s got a great museum, it’s got great colleges, and some other things I like--from a market standpoint, from an economic standpoint, it doesn’t look that great,” said Whitcomb.

Whitcomb's storied career as a journalist includes serving as the Editor of the Editorial Page at the Providence Journal, as the Finance Editor of the International Herald Tribune in Paris, and as an editor and writer at The Wall Street Journal in New York.


Related Slideshow: 7 Things to Know About the Newest PawSox Public Financing Scheme - June

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Political Impact

The backdrop of the entire discussion of the financing for a PawSox stadium is the 2018 election. According to private polling, the majority of Rhode Islanders believe that the owners of the PawSox should pay for their own stadium.

How hard will Governor Gina Raimondo and Speaker Nick Mattiello push for a new controversial stadium? They both won by the thinnest of margins - Raimondo won the Governorship with just 40 percent of the vote and Mattiello won re-election on paper ballots by a margin of just 85 votes.

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Moody’s Mixed Bag on Pawtucket’s Bond Rating

According to the rating agency Moody's, Pawtucket's outlook is:

Moody's does not typically assign outlooks to local government credits in the A rating category with this amount of debt outstanding.

Factors that Could Lead to an Upgrade

Sustained increase in reserve levels

Improvement in wealth and income indices

Reduction in pension and OPEB liabilities leading to greater operating flexibility

Factors that Could Lead to a Downgrade

Decline in reserve levels

Significant increase in debt and pension costs

Sustained contraction of the tax base

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Len Lardaro Warns of Risk to RI Taxpayers

URI economist and author of the Lardaro Report warns:

"While there might not be direct risk to RI, there is indirect risk: If the deal collapses and Pawtucket absorbs the entire loss, their credit rating would definitely fall, and in a worst case scenario, they might flirt with possible bankruptcy. RI could never just allow them to fall.

At any rate, our state's credit rating would clearly be negatively affected."

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Just Like the Last Deal

There is little difference between the May proposal negotiated between RI Commerce, the City of Pawtucket, and the PawSox ownership and the legislation introduced in the RI State Senate on Tuesday by Pawtucket State Senator William Conley.

Ultimately, Rhode Island taxpayers will be on the hook if this deal goes sour. 

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Top Business Leaders Question Public Financing

In May, Rhode Island business leader Angus Davis, who heads Upserve, talked about his company's growth and spoke out about the billionaire group of Pawtucket Red Sox owners who are asking for $38 million to build a new park.  


"If you have a good business, you have investors to back it," said Davis, who began his career by selling his company TellMe to Microsoft - for a reported $800 million. "And by the way, the people behind this team know a thing or two about business, about speaking with investors, and so on."

In a wide-ranging interview, Davis took to task the approach of the PawSox ownership - in light of the state's bourgeoning fiscal needs. 

"I get that someone, whether with stadiums or public infrastructure investments, can spur development and economic growth, I get all that," said Davis. "OK, fine. How about, 'We'll build the ballpark -- we need the city or state to come in and give us a highway off-ramp or something like that,' so it's easier to get people to and from."

"That's a little more understandable than, 'Hey, 'I'd like to leverage the taxpayers balance sheet so I can borrow money at 3%," said Davis. "To me? Come on."

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Opponents are Mobilizing

It did not take long for the old band of opponents of public financing to the stadium to mobilize - literally just hours after the new legislation was announced.


Calling the latest Pawtucket Red Sox legislative effort -- which is expected to see a fall session for legislators to consider --  "insane," community organizer and Pawtucket resident David Norton appeared on GoLocal LIVE on Tuesday. 

"People in Rhode Island, and Pawtucket, are upset regarding collective billionaires getting tax money. [Last night], Facebook and social media started to light up," aid Norton. "We fought this fight two years ago, we thought we won it, we kind of fought it this year, we thought we won it."

"It's upsetting to Rhode Islanders and people of Pawtucket," said Norton.  
"We did a poll on the "you know you're from Pawtucket " Facebook page -- the sample size was 200 -- 160 or so were dead set against the PawSox getting $15 million from the City of Pawtucket."

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Millions in Environmental Contamination Costs, Who Pays?

In May, GoLocal exclsuively reported that the owners of the Apex site in Pawtucket and the previous owners are battling in Superior Court over indemnification provisions from more than $6.4 million in environmental clean-up costs tied to the land being eyed for the new PawSox Stadium. Both lead and aresnic contaminate the site according to the suits.

The two parties include Andrew Gates of Apex Development Company who purchased the property for $24 million and a number of members of the prominent Fain family, who previously had ownership interest in the property.

Gates’ entity purchased the property in December of 1998 according to city tax records and the property is now assessed at just under $4.3 million — a drop of nearly $20 million in value.

Legal Battle

According to state records, Gates is the managing partner in Zargo, LLC, which filed the action in December of 2016.

In the Zargo, LLC complaint against the Fain group (the previous owners), Zargo asserts in the fact section of their action that, ”Zargo and entities have become aware of liabilities, title issues, environmental conditions and safety issues (among other things), which include but are not limited to hazardous/toxic substances (including but not limited to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, arsenic, and lead), toxic materials, and underground waste oil tanks on the Real Estate (collectively, the 'Claims'), all of which are covered by the Agreement’s indemnity provisions.”


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