PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Though they may sound as far apart as they ever were on public-financing of a new Pawtucket Red Sox stadium, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien appear to have found what one calls a “framework″ and the other “a pathway″ for a possible deal.
Spotted at the State House on Tuesday with PawSox Vice Chairman Mike Tamburro, Grebien talked about one option that would reduce the state’s potential share of the financing package from $23 million to about $8 million, with “the ownership and a private group [coming] in to buy the bonds and be responsible for them.”
Grebien declined to identify the private group, and when asked if there was agreement between city and state leaders on this piece of the financing puzzle, he said: “No. This is informal... [But] we’re pretty confident we’ve got it down to $8 million.”
When asked about this option on Wednesday, Mattiello told The Journal: “I am not going to negotiate publicly... [But] I will tell you that that is not part of anything that I am considering. So there should be no jumping ahead by anyone, assuming there is an agreement. There certainly is no agreement along those terms.”
Among the other rumored options: setting the city adrift to float its own bond without the pledge of a state appropriation to back it up — and removing the state from any role in bonding to cover the team’s share. Mattiello said, “We’re not looking at that.”
But he told the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday morning — and later, The Journal — that the behind the scenes discussions have produced a possible “framework that sounds intriguing if it can work, and all of the goals I have been seeking can be accomplished.” Translated: little to no taxpayer risk if projected revenues fall short, or if the team packs up and leaves in the future.
He would not elaborate, but he said the promising framework is totally different than the legislation that came over from the Senate earlier in the session.
At its most basic, the Senate-approved bill would require the General Assembly to appropriate money annually to cover the borrowing costs for $15 million in city bonds, $23 million in state-backed bonds and $33 million of the team’s share. The premise; there would be ample revenue coming in from stadium lease payments, naming rights, sales and income taxes and new economic activity around the new ballpark in downtown Pawtucket.
Mattiello said he told Grebien, at a one-on-one meeting last week at the Ale House Cigar Bar, that he is no more comfortable now than he was earlier with “the old deal,″ because “the taxpayer does not support it.”
But the ever-optimistic Grebien told The Journal: “We have been meeting with the speaker’s team. We think we have a pathway.”
Grebien did not respond to follow-up Journal inquiries on Wednesday, but his staff issued this statement: “He is not prepared to discuss the details of the framework because it is a decision that rests with the Speaker and the House to determine a pathway forward. He is pleased to hear positive comments from the Speaker today that hopefully reinforce the conversations that have been happening.”
What’s next? Mattiello said: “I expect to have a staff-level meeting at some point in the near future. Nothing’s been scheduled yet.”
Asked the likelihood the General Assembly will strike a deal with the PawSox before the anticipated close of this year’s legislative session next month, he said: “I am not a betting person and I have no level of confidence either way.
“We will work at it,” Mattiello said. “If something make sense for Rhode Island, Pawtucket and the taxpayer, we will do it. If, after discussing the details, it doesn’t make sense, we will not do it.”
Business and community leaders in Worcester are trying to lure the team to their city.