There has been great talk of late centered around the protests against the stadium. I want to offer a few ideas here about the strategy being offered in Providence by those who are adamant that the parcel of land remain designated as an open space green park.
First, it is important to begin with where this park idea comes from. Section 42-64.14-5 of H 5994- AN ACT RELATING TO PUBLIC PROPERTY AND WORKS, the law passed in 2011, reads:
However, parcels P2 and P4, as delineated on that certain plan of land captioned “Improvements to Interstate Route 195, Providence, Rhode Island, Proposed Development Parcel Plans 1 through 10, Scale: 1”=20’, May 2010, Bryant Associates, Inc., Engineers-Surveyors-Construction Managers, Lincoln, RI, Maguire Group, Inc., Architects/Engineers/Planners, Providence, RI,” shall be developed and continued to be used as parks or park supporting activity provided, however, that the city of Providence shall not be responsible for the upkeep of the parks unless a memorandum of understanding is entered into between the commission or the state and the city of Providence that grants full funding to the city for that purpose.
To that extent, the taxpayers have already funded landscape architects who have been developing plans for the future park, as seen in this slideshow.
But besides this issue is one that will determine the future development of the rest of the I-195 land. The stadium proposal is throwing a major monkey wrench into the drafting of a master permit by Department of Environmental Management, the Coastal Resources Management Council, and the Narragansett Bay Commission “that would shorten the time it takes for developers to build on former Route 195 land,” as Kate Bramson of the ProJo reported on May 2. The open park is intended to also include a stormwater mitigation mechanism that would shorten building permit wait times significantly. Bramson’s piece had a few lines worth repeating, including a quote from Quonset Development Corporation’s managing director Steven King:
“In Rhode Island, time is a killer,” King said. “When you get bogged down, your business seeks the path of least resistance.”
Bramson went on to explain that, if the stadium were to be built, it could trigger a domino-like reaction where the various agencies involved would have to revise their portions of the master permit and perhaps lead to further delays in development of the land. This is something that could end up being a real threat to construction jobs in Providence because these three agencies are not known for being anything but stringent. One of the alternatives would include underground construction in a part of Providence already well-known for traffic jams or using another parcel of land as a park where a building could have been. When I recently asked Syd McKenna, co-host of the PawSox listening tour, about this issue, she shrugged and said they intend the stadium to have a grass field, ergo no worries. But that is not exactly the same thing, the underground foundation of the stadium could end up failing to meet the mitigation requirements.
Another point I would encourage the Providence opposition to focus their energies on is making the team publicize the terms of the deal. Right now, the owners are trying to push the idea of a contract that would be ‘revenue neutral’, but I am unsure if that is just Rhode Island-ese for tax breaks, subsidies, and public funding. The simple message should be four words, ‘Show Us The Deal‘. While I respect the efforts of the people in Providence, I am skeptical about sending a petition to City Council based on the Providence Home Rule Charter Section 209 because when this strategy was used last so to raise the minimum wage, the General Assembly voided it by passing a law to bar municipalities from doing so, something they have done multiple times before. If the City Council or State House were to void the petition, that would be a tremendously disenchanting. But by engaging in a PR blitz calling for nothing more or less radical than transparency and no tax breaks, subsidies, and public financing, there is a further chance for success. And incidentally, the financing is the meta-issue that will resolve all the others by default. The park, the master permit, and the host of other peripheral concerns will take care of themselves if the PawSox do not get the financing they want, it is as simple as that. Having attended most of the Listening Tour stops, I can report that the speakers are doing very well at adapting to answer the tiny concerns, such as now including the claim that the ownership will build an adjacent green park so to appease those focused solely on that topic, but they consistently stonewall when asked to disclose the terms of the deal they want. Every decent attorney knows that kind of silence is the sign of a weak spot, so continuing to agitate on that point will continue to frustrate the owners.
These parcels have the potential to generate both years of joy at no cost for the general public and also revenues for the city when organizations reserve space for events. By contrast, a ‘revenue neutral’ stadium would cost money to attend and would send all event monies to the PawSox owners. Just last night, it was announced that Larry Lucchino, principal owner of the PawSox, is leaving his post at Fenway to devote more time to championing the stadium’s construction. This makes clear to me that, while they are probably getting desperate, this is not the end of anything, we have merely entered the eye of the hurricane.