Construction activity at the Tidewater Landing site in Pawtucket on Oct. 5, 2023. (Nancy Lavin/Rhode Island Current)
It’s game on for the transformation of Pawtucket’s riverfront, with glimpses of the professional soccer stadium finally evident at the long-abandoned site.
Meanwhile, Pawtucket officials are moving ahead with plans to issue the $36 million in city and state bonds being used to pay for part of the $124 million Tidewater Landing project, potentially within a few weeks.
First, they need to make a few technical adjustments to the city’s redevelopment plan and its master plan agreement with developer Fortuitous Partners before they can sell public bonds being used to help pay for the project. The Pawtucket City Council met for a special meeting Thursday and within seconds voted 6-0 (with three members absent) to refer proposed updates for consideration at a series of city committee meetings scheduled for Oct 11.
City Council members were unsure of specifics of the proposed changes even after voting Thursday.
“I haven’t given it a hard look,” said Council President Terry Mercer. “My understanding is they are very minor adjustments, more of a record-keeping kind of thing. I don’t think the changes are earth-shattering.”
Before the meeting, Councilmember David Moran said he could not comment on the amendments because he did not know what they were.
The amendments are largely technical in nature, intended to reflect changes to project timing which has been delayed substantially since the documents were first inked in 2021, according to Grace Voll, a spokesperson for the city.
The project relies on a combination of public, tax increment-financing and private debt and investment, with the $36 million in state and city-issued bonds intended to be repaid using revenue generated from the project.
The original master plan agreement laid out the timeline, funding, and public and private commitments, giving Fortuitous Partners a year to provide the city with “written attestation accompanied by reasonable evidence” that it has enough money to complete the first phase of the project.
That deadline came and went as the developer struggled to raise enough private investment for its share of the project. Construction on the United Soccer League stadium ground to a halt earlier this spring amid financing woes. Now, the company appears to be making a comeback, announcing in August it closed the private funding gap and resuming construction shortly after.
Which is why the dates need to be revised, and the agreement updated before the city can sell the bonds, and the developer can close on its now-secured private financing.
“Everything on the public financing and the private debt is in its final stages of moving toward closing so these things are all necessitated for that,” Mike Raia, a spokesperson for Fortuitous said on Thursday.
Despite prior delays, Mercer said he was “cautiously optimistic” for the project, pointing to Fortuitous’ August announcement that it finished its private fundraising as well as resumed construction work along the western bank of Pawtucket River.
“I think things are looking up,” Mercer said.
The master plan agreement contains many protections intended to shield both the city – and its taxpayers – as well as the developer if the other group does not make good on its promises. If, for example, the developer does not meet agreed-upon construction dates, the city can sue them for damages, take over construction of the project or even end its commitment to provide the tax-increment financing. Similar consequences face the city or the Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency if they don’t pay what they’ve agreed to the developer or issue the state bonds.
The agreement also covers details about the second phase of the project calling for housing, retail and office space, as well as parking and infrastructure improvements, across the river. Construction on what is known as “phase 1B” is unlikely to start for at least another year and there’s no private funding yet lined up to pay for it, though the updated agreement requires Fortuitous to provide proof of financing to the city by Dec. 31, 2024.
Despite the lack of clarity and certainty surrounding the second portion of development, Mercer expressed confidence that it would happen.
“All indications are we will accomplish that,” he said, stressing the developers’ interest, along with the city’s, in completing the entire project. “They have insisted that just the stadium doesn’t work for them either.”
In addition to tax-increment financing, the state has also kicked in $14 million in tax credits, while Pawtucket gave $10 million in stimulus funds for a total of $60 million in public funding. Fortuitous is covering the remaining $80 million through a combination of private equity and debt.
The Pawtucket property, finance and ordinance committees are expected to review the amended agreements on Oct. 11 before sending them back to the full council for a vote on that same day, Mercer said.
Meanwhile, construction at the stadium continues, with steel foundations arriving earlier this week, Raia said.
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