You think they’ll treat us different?

Pawtucket’s coming after the WooSox for leaving a big ol mess at McCoy

If the City of Pawtucket is to be believed the PawSox are leaving the stadium down there in such a messy state of disrepair they felt the need to take legal action. 

Earlier this week, the city of Pawtucket filed a lawsuit against the team hoping to get them to pay up for maintenance and repairs that they were contractually obligated to do but did not do. The PawSox in return called the lawsuit “unfounded” and otherwise are declining to comment, per the Providence Journal.

I got my hands on the city’s legal complaint, and they’re saying that per a lease agreement the PawSox and the city were on the hook for some $35 million in repairs and improvements and upkeep, as identified in something called the “Pendulum Report,” but the PawSox bailed on the obligation since announcing they would relocate to Worcester. 

Per the suite:

While the Team cured some deficiencies in the condition of the Stadium identified in the Pendulum Report, it did not address numerous others and, to date, there remain significant, costly deficiencies in the condition of the Stadium resulting from the Team’s failure and refusal to comply with its maintenance, repair, and other obligations under the Lease and Sublease.

Could this be our Ghost of Christmas Future? It certainly does not inspire confidence that the team will be the wonderful partners city leaders have so often sought to assure they will be.

Much like Pawtucket, we as a city have a lease agreement with the team that has all sorts of conditions attached to it. Recently, that lease agreement was notably extended in a very unique and very scary way. The PawSox have promised to pay for the most recent cost overruns, as is part of the initial agreement, with $7 million in cash up front and another $10 million financed through a loan. But the PawSox did not, themselves, take out this loan. They had the city do it. The PawSox are going to pay us to pay the loan that we took out for them. Last night, when City Councilor Donna Colorio—not someone I personally want anywhere near power in this city but nevertheless this was a good question—asked the city manager why the team didn’t take out their own loan, Augustus’ response was a bit… worrying. 

He said, in so many words, that the team wanted to use the city’s “access to capital,” which probably means the city has a better credit score, and in return the city used it as a bargaining position to get a longer lease and a longer commitment that they would not relocate. He also said that he wants the city to be “good partners” with the team, so it would be nice for us to accept the risk for their loan. He also, most worryingly, commented that the team has lost revenue due to the fact they couldn’t play their 2020 season cuz COVID. That this nod to possible financial hardship was part of Augustus’ rationale for taking out a loan for the team is distressing to say the least.

I’m honing in on this one small example of the financial entanglement we find ourselves in with this team to illustrate a larger point. In order for this whole ballpark thing to not blow up in our faces and leave the city stuck holding a very large bag, we’re dependent on this team living up to all of its promises. We don’t elect the team. We don’t even elect the person who negotiated bringing the team here. We’re at their mercy and at their old haunt, the team is leaving behind a heap of trash and unfinished maintenance and unfulfilled obligations, if this lawsuit is to be believed. We just took out a $14 million loan for them, on top of expecting that they are going to give us $1 million a year for 35 years and… why are we doing this again? It’s a sea of red flags at this point. 

But after Augustus answered Colorio’s question, that was sort of that. Besides Colorio’s question and a small handful of other pointed ones, the City Council’s discussion of the ballpark project and the most recent round of cost overruns read very much like repeatedly asking the manager, “Sir, can you explain to me, and more importantly my constituents, why these reasonable concerns are, in fact, ridiculous?”

And there’s nothing we can do about it. This council is 100 percent strapped in, locked and loaded on this project, damn the costs. It needs to work for them because they voted for it and they’ll spend any amount of money to make sure it does. 

Nicole Apostola, a damn fine local blogger when she’s up to it, asked during the public comment section of the meeting, “When will any of you say enough is enough to this project?” That’s a really good question, but it’s not one any councilor is going to answer because the real answer is, “We’re going to spend as much money as we have to.”

Councilor Gary Rosen’s comments perfectly encapsulate the general mentality of the council. 

“There aren’t many negatives to this project but some people stress the finances, they don’t like the finances so we can’t have baseball.”

And I just don’t even know what to do with that. These people are, ostensibly, elected to be stewards of public finances. They review budgets every year. They have veto power. The finances are the entire point of city government. How we take money from people and toward what services we put it is what a city government does. That Rosen can get up there and say baseball is more important than the finances… that’s just remarkable. 

So it’s going to be important for Worcester to follow how the PawSox handle this lawsuit Pawtucket filed against them. Will they honor these agreements that Pawtucket says they’re in breach of, or will they find a way to wiggle out of it? And if they can wiggle out of that lawsuit, who’s to say they can’t eventually wiggle out of any of the commitments they made to us? 

At the end of the discussion on these cost overruns, Councilor George Russell asked, pointedly, whether this number, the $157 million, would be the final cost of the project. 

“‘Please, Jesus’ would be my response,” Augustus said in return.

An attempt at a joke, to be sure, and like all good jokes it speaks to a truth, and that truth is we are just simply not in the driver’s seat on this one. 

Jesus take the wheel. 

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This is a quick one and I consider it something of an addendum to my post about the WooSox on Sunday. Read that one here if you haven’t, and if you liked this one or that one or both, please consider subscribing!

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Until next time my sweet babies.