In February, the Pawtucket Red Sox were sold to a Boston Red Sox-affiliated ownership group which immediately announced its intent to move the team to a proposed urban riverfront stadium in neighboring Providence.
This plan is now dead. On Sept. 19, PawSox chairman (and outgoing Red Sox CEO) Larry Lucchino announced the team "will cease its public campaign for the I-195 riverfront site." This campaign had been troubled from the start. Public opinion was heavily in favor of keeping the PawSox at their old home of McCoy Stadium, especially after the ownership group's first proposed funding plan called for what would amount to $120 million in public money. That plan was withdrawn, but, as I learned firsthand when I visited Pawtucket, strong opposition to the new ballpark remained.
The I-195 riverfront stadium plan was formally abandoned after the estimated cost of building the stadium skyrocketed past initial expectations. Brown University owns a parcel of land that the team needed and set the price of that land at $15 million. Additional land would have had to be obtained from the I-195 commission at "fair market value."
"We believe the site along the Providence River is exceptional, and it would have been a win-win-win for the state, the city, and the PawSox, and we tried hard to bring it to fruition," said Lucchino, in a team-released statement. "We have received word that the site still confronts certain obstacles and lacks the necessary support, and we have been urged to consider other possible sites.
A "celebratory rally" was staged at the Rhode Island State House on Sept. 24, as ballpark opponents reveled in the victory. They also plotted their next move, as more battles are sure to come. As television station WPRI reported, "A number of state and local leaders are encouraging the team to continue examining the former Victory Polishing and Plating Co. headquarters [in Providence] as a potential stadium location, even though the Lifespan hospital group just bought the site this month."
Lucchino confirmed Providence isn't yet off the table, remarking in his statement that "We will now begin to consider all other options and proposals we receive, including city officials' suggestion of potential other sites in Providence."
"All other options" could also include locales outside of Rhode Island. As the Hartford Courant recently reported, the Massachusetts cities of Worcester, New Bedford and Springfield would all be open to discussing the possibility of hosting the team.
Of course, what many PawSox fans want is for the team to stay at McCoy Stadium. The ownership group says this is not an long-term option (the current lease expires in 2020), citing a feasibility study that puts the cost of renovating McCoy at $65 million. This study has not been released to the public, despite the pleas of Pawtucket mayor Donald Grebien.
Amid all the controversy, one thing is for certain: The PawSox will be playing at McCoy Stadium in 2016 (and most likely, beyond). McCoy, which opened in 1942, is the oldest stadium in the International League.
Back to the drawing board
Previous editions of this column detailed the Hagerstown Suns' protracted and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to relocate to a proposed new stadium and sports complex in Fredericksburg, Virginia. After that effort failed, speculation shifted to Spotsylvania, Virginia. That, too, is now off the table. As reported by Fredericksburg.com, Suns owner Bruce Quinn and Spotsylvania County missed a July 31 deadline to hammer out a ballpark financing agreement. If and when talks resume, it will likely be after the November elections. Meanwhile, the Suns remain at Hagerstown's Municipal Stadium. They have finished last in the South Atlantic League in attendance for the past five seasons.
Grainger Stadium in Kinston, North Carolina has not hosted Minor League Baseball since the Kinston Indians departed after the 2011 campaign. But the 66-year-old stadium may soon come back to life, as the Kinston City Council approved a lease between the city and the Rangers Kinston LLC ownership group. A Carolina League team, affiliated with the Texas Rangers, could play there as early as 2017.
Kinston hosting a Carolina League team would be the final step in a game of Minor League dominoes. In a nutshell: The Eastern League's Binghamton Mets would be purchased by Main Street Baseball and then move to Wilmington, Delaware. The Wilmington Blue Rocks, currently owned by Main Street Baseball, would then be sold to the Rangers' affiliated ownership group and move to Kinston.
In an interview earlier this month, however, current B-Mets owner Dave Urda said the 2017 season is a "lock" to be in Binghamton and the team was "looking forward to the future here."
In other words: Stay tuned.
West Palm Beach County has approved a plan to build a $135 million facility that will house the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros during Spring Training, currently scheduled to open in 2017. The facility will be in close proximity to Palm Beach's Roger Dean Stadium, which hosts the St. Louis Cardinals and Florida Marlins, thereby alleviating fears that the Grapefruit League would be forced to abandon the area for want of nearby competition within central Florida's East Coast.
As with Roger Dean Stadium, which hosts the Palm Beach Cardinals and Jupiter Hammerheads, the new West Palm Beach County facility could serve as a Class A Advanced Florida State League ballpark once Spring Training concludes. No information has been announced on this front.
The Nationals currently spend Spring Training at Brevard County's Space Coast Stadium, which is also home to the Brevard County Manatees (Class A Advanced affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers). After the Nationals depart, the U.S. Specialty Sports Association will operate the facility. The Manatees, meanwhile, are looking for a new home as Space Coast Stadium does not appear to be a viable long-term option.
Fayetteville, North Carolina has not hosted a Minor League Baseball team since the 2000 Cape Fear Crocs, but the Fayetteville Observer notes that "The city has set aside $150,000 in the newly adopted fiscal 2016 budget to study the economic feasibility of having a minor-league stadium that would be partially surrounded by new commercial and residential development."
Similarly, Macon, Georgia has not hosted a Minor League team since the 2002 Macon Braves. Per Macon.com, a vote to approve a $50,000 feasibility study is scheduled for Oct. 6.