The Future of Pawtucket's McCoy Stadium
In the spring of 2015, the new owners of the Pawtucket Red Sox announced their intention to leave McCoy Stadium, the team’s home since 1970.1 Pawtucket is now considering the question of what it might do with the nearly eighty-year-old stadium if the team, known locally as the PawSox, were to leave. The team recently recommitted to the city and to McCoy Stadium until 2021, but their long-term plans are unknown.2
Pawtucket is not the first municipality to face this question and cities have chosen a variety of ways to repurpose unused stadium properties. In this report, we examine the history and current status of McCoy Stadium and explore what the consequences might be if it is vacated. We analyze a full range of options that cities have employed for repurposing stadiums, ranging in order from the most popular to most innovative.
The Home of the PawSox
McCoy Stadium was built in 1942 and has been home to a Boston Red Sox farm league, the Pawtucket Red Sox, since 1970.(a) The stadium is surrounded by a mixed-use neighborhood, with houses, a business park, restaurants, a middle school, and several lots of state-owned land.3
(a) McCoy Stadium has been renovated several times over the years, most recently in a $20 million overhaul and enlargement project in 1998, which was funded in part by $14.5 million from the state of Rhode Island.
Fig. 1 McCoy Stadium
Source: Pawtucket Red Sox
Valued at roughly $13 million, the stadium is owned by the city of Pawtucket and is currently leased by the PawSox for $34,000 a year.4,5 Since 2011, the state has provided more than $30,000 a year to support stadium maintenance.6 Although financial data on McCoy Stadium is not publicly available, comparable stadiums cost approximately $1.3 million per year to operate, in addition to the state support received by many stadiums.7 In the case of McCoy Stadium, operating costs are likely covered by ticket income, which brings in roughly $5.7 million annually.8
The Costs of an Empty Stadium
Many cities left with vacant stadiums lack the resources to repurpose these properties. Leaving a stadium empty, however, has an economic cost for the city and state. Although there have not been enough vacant stadiums to develop a controlled model of their economic impact, studies of vacant buildings in general suggest that properties around abandoned structures experience, on average, approximately a 15% reduction in value.9 This would economically harm homeowners and lower property tax revenues, which account for nearly eighty percent of the city of Pawtucket’s operating budget. Property values in Pawtucket are already lower than in much of the rest of the state, thus any decrease in housing values would be very problematic for both the residents and the city’s budget.10-12
Empty buildings also present a public safety hazard. Crime rates on blocks with abandoned buildings are nearly double those on blocks without such buildings, and violent crime can increase an average of 18% in areas around abandoned buildings.13,14 Fire is another concern,(b) as evidenced by the recent destruction of Civic Stadium in Eugene, Oregon, which was burned to the ground by trespassing teenagers.16 In order to protect McCoy Stadium and the surrounding neighborhood – and to protect the city from potential legal liability – Pawtucket might have to implement additional law enforcement and safety measures at a significant cost if the stadium is left empty.
(b) Roughly 6,000 firefighters are injured and nearly 20 civilians die in more than 11,000 fires in vacant buildings every year. Millions of dollars are lost to property damage and mitigation costs.15
While the revenue from leasing the stadium contributes just a fraction of the Pawtucket’s yearly budget,12 a vacant McCoy Stadium could have negative consequences for a city that is already struggling economically. Over the past four years Pawtucket(c) has been experiencing a downward trend of decreasing average income and increasing unemployment, resulting in an unemployment rate twice that of the rest of the state.17,20,21
(c) Pawtucket is the fourth largest city in Rhode Island, with a population of around 71,000. It is a young and diverse city, with a higher percentage of minority residents and an average resident age that is seven years younger than the state as a whole.11,17-19
Fig. 2 Pawtucket's Economy
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau; RI Department of Labor & Training
A Second Life for McCoy Stadium
Cities around the country have explored a variety of options for giving vacant stadiums a second life, from repurposing them for public use to selling them to third parties for redevelopment to simply demolishing them. If the PawSox do leave McCoy Stadium, Pawtucket would have a number of choices about what to do with the stadium and surrounding lands. Below we outline the benefits and drawbacks of the most promising options and discuss how other municipalities have dealt with these choices. The options are ordered from most common to most innovative.
Option 1: Demolish McCoy Stadium and Sell or Use the Land
Demolition is the most popular option municipalities have employed to deal with vacant stadiums. Out of 90 ballparks around the country abandoned between 1999 and 2014, 26 have been demolished.22 According to sports economist Andrew Zimbalist, “usually it makes [financial] sense to blow them up and put something else in.”23 Demolishing the stadium would allow developers or the city to use the site unencumbered by the existing structure.
Efforts to demolish McCoy would undoubtedly meet with resistance in a community where “Red Sox Nation” reigns and the stadium has a long history. However, Pawtucket may not be able to afford the maintenance costs and lost property tax revenue from yet another vacant property, and may be best served by opening up the space for new use. Even if the city wants to sell, Pawtucket is currently home to fourteen vacant, state-owned properties, which may spread out potential investor interest and decrease McCoy’s chances of being purchased.24
Textbox 1: The Cost of Demolition versus Redevelopment: The Case of Memorial Stadium, Baltimore, Maryland
Option 2: Sell McCoy Stadium “As Is” to a Private Investor
If McCoy Stadium becomes vacant, it could be sold in its current condition on the private market. This option absolves the city of liability and responsibility for the property, and potentially allows the city to accrue large amounts of capital instead of spending money on stadium renovation and upkeep. It also opens the property up to a wide range of private sector renovations without limiting the possibilities based on the constraints of city or state resources.
Selling to a private investor carries the risk that the new owner will choose not to redevelop or improve the property. Even a developer with the best of intentions can be prevented from following through if private investment dries up. In addition, certain features of the tax system can create adverse incentives for a developer to hold onto a deteriorating property without improving it, accruing tax benefits until it can be sold off again for a profit.(d)
(d) If a property is left to deteriorate due to natural conditions and obsolescence, an owner can accrue depreciation tax deductions and, if they sell later, see a net gain on the property as a result of these deductions. In addition, holding onto a property without improving it avoids the implementation of a capital gains tax, which is applied if an owner sells property for more than its purchase price. Avoiding renovation also keeps property taxes lower.29,30
Option 3: Convert McCoy for Use as a Different Type of Stadium
Convert to a Stadium for a Different Sport
McCoy Stadium could be transitioned into a venue for another sport. This is a popular option for cities with newer stadiums that already function as homes for multiple sports teams during different seasons,(e) such as Oakland Coliseum in California and RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.31,32 This option would preserve McCoy as a sports stadium and allow more flexibility in the sports competitions and seasons to which it caters.
There are some challenges involved in developing mixed-use stadiums that have made this option difficult for many cities. Stadiums that transition completely to a new sport often have to undergo so many renovations to fit the needs of the new sport’s spectators and players that much of the original layout and structure has to be completely rebuilt.33 This is the case for proposed renovations to Atlanta’s Turner Field, where the original baseball stadium will be almost entirely demolished to make way for a new football, soccer, and track and field stadium to be built beyond the footprint of the old baseball stadium.33 While McCoy Stadium could serve as a home for another sport, it might have to undergo similar massive and expensive renovations to accommodate such a transition.
Sell or Lease to a University for Reuse as a College Stadium
Another option that cities have employed is selling or leasing an unused stadium to a university to be used for college sports events. For example, in 2014, Arizona State University signed a 25 year lease with the City of Phoenix to use Phoenix Municipal Stadium for its baseball team.34 The university spent nearly $3 million remodeling the stadium’s seating, locker rooms, and public venues to better serve the needs of a collegiate program, raising the funds through private donations to the school’s baseball program.35
It is unclear whether this option would be feasible in Pawtucket. Of the eight institutions of higher education in Rhode Island that have baseball teams, two are located more than thirty minutes from McCoy Stadium, and the other six already have fully functioning, full-size baseball fields on their campuses. The success of acquisitions like Arizona State’s has primarily relied on the broad popularity of a baseball program that needed to expand to a larger facility.35 If none of Rhode Island’s college baseball programs fit this bill, moving to a larger stadium like McCoy could result in more costs than benefits.
Option 4: Renovate McCoy Stadium into a Public Park
Pawtucket could follow the example of Cleveland’s League Park and convert McCoy Stadium into a public park. League Park was abandoned in 1946 and partially demolished, but reopened in 2014 as a baseball museum, public park, and playing field for local youth baseball and softball programs.36
Turning McCoy Stadium into a public park would preserve public access to the stadium and maintain Pawtucket’s role in promoting baseball in Rhode Island. The field could be utilized as a public playing space for local school and youth programs and the stadium itself could hold a visitor’s center or museum featuring memorabilia and history from McCoy Stadium and Minor League Baseball.
(e) The use of a stadium by two or more sports presents its own unique difficulties. It costs the Oakland Coliseum roughly $250,000 and nearly a full day’s time to transition between the Oakland A’s baseball team and the Oakland Raiders football team. Many critics felt RFK Stadium’s multi-purpose layout, built to showcase both baseball and football games, created substantial difficulties in spectating and game play for both sports and was ideal for neither sport.31
Textbox 2: Converting an Abandoned Stadium in Cleveland into a Public Park
Despite the potential benefits, it is unclear how well this option would fit McCoy Stadium. For one, it is questionable if a visitor’s center and park would contribute enough to the local economy to make up for the expense of the conversion and the economic loss of the PawSox. Second, prior to renovation, much of the League Park stadium had already been demolished. In contrast, McCoy has large stadium infrastructure – including bleachers, stadium seating, and multi-level concourses – that would need to renovated and at least partially demolished if the stadium was to be repurposed as a museum and visitor’s center. This would greatly increase the renovation costs. In addition, Pawtucket is already home to 12 baseball diamonds in three park locations, which may limit the community value of an additional baseball resource.
Option 5: Repurpose McCoy Stadium for a New Use
Another option for McCoy Stadium and perhaps the most exciting and innovative is adaptive reuse, the process of renovating and reusing a historic building for a purpose other than the one it was designed for.40 Adaptive reuse can be costly because old buildings often lack energy efficiency, require expensive and rare materials in their renovation, and need extensive modifications to fit modern building codes and their new purpose. For these reasons, the research literature suggests that it is usually cheaper and easier to demolish an old building and start from the ground up.40-43 However, there are a number of funding streams and incentives available to support adaptive reuse, including state and federal tax credits and grants for specific purposes such as supporting parks or mixed-income housing.
Beyond economic considerations, factors like an existing cultural connection with the community, the ease of adaptation to a new purpose, and community demand for that new purpose can tip the scales in favor of reuse.40-43 A deep connection like the one between Pawtucket and McCoy Stadium may make repurposing a more palatable option than demolition. Another advantage of adaptive reuse is that the city can have the opportunity to be innovative and make connections with the private sector to advance a project that potentially achieves multiple public goals: providing a quality public good, saving a historic landmark, and contributing to the local economy.
Fig. 3 Funding the Redevelopment of Vacant Stadiums
Sources: Warsinskey, 2014.36 Kuttler, 2013.37 Ott, 2012.38 Holeywell, 2013. 44
Convert McCoy Stadium into Housing
One highly successful example of an innovative approach to repurposing a stadium in a way that both provides a public good and serves the local economy is the 2008 redevelopment of Bush Stadium in Indianapolis into modern apartments known as Stadium Lofts.(f) The stadium was redeveloped into 138 rental units, all of which are currently occupied at prices ranging from $600 to $1300 a month.44 The development preserved the baseball field and the façade of the stadium. Residents have full access to the field as well as a high-end fitness facility. The lobby through which residents enter the building is the old box office, which was maintained for historic character.
Bush Stadium was converted by Core Redevelopment, a developer that specializes in repurposing historic buildings, and Indiana Landmarks, a nonprofit that works to preserve historic properties with public and private funds.44 The project cost $13 million, including a $1.8 million grant from the state of Indiana and $3.5 million from the city raised through Tax Increment Financing (see Text Box 3 for more information).45
(f) Bush Stadium opened in 1931 and was the home of the Indianapolis Indians until their departure to a new stadium in 1996. After that, the stadium sat vacant until 2008.44
Redeveloping McCoy Stadium into housing could be an exciting option since the state is in need of additional housing, particularly quality affordable housing.46 In partnership with a private or non-profit developer, the city might be able to take advantage of federal and state funding supports for mixed-income housing development. In doing so, Pawtucket could preserve historic structures and provide quality housing to residents that would contribute to the economic vitality of the city and state.
Textbox 3: Financing Mixed-Income Housing Development
Convert McCoy Stadium into a Sports-Focused High School
Pawtucket could also seize the opportunity to innovate by repurposing McCoy Stadium in a way that has not been done in other cities. One possibility would be to convert the stadium into a magnet school designed to meet the academic and athletic needs of Rhode Island’s high school baseball and softball players. Rhode Island has sent a handful of residents to professional and major league teams in recent years and has three Division One collegiate baseball teams, suggesting that the state is home to a large pool of talented student athletes.52,53 Although this option has not been attempted by other cities with vacant stadiums, it aligns with a growing trend of specialized sport-focused schools such as the IMG Academy in Florida and the YSC Academy in Pennsylvania. The infrastructure of the stadium could be retrofitted to accommodate classrooms and indoor training spaces and the field could function as a practice and competition field.
Sports-Focused High Schools
Although most of Rhode Island’s public schools are operating under capacity, a specialized sports school would serve a student population not currently served by any school in the state.54 It could connect with a growing interest in specialty magnet schools both in the state and nationwide. Our research suggests that McCoy Stadium would not only be the first stadium in the nation to be transitioned into a school, it would also be the first public athletic school in the country (so far, sports schools have been largely private). This conversion would be an exciting opportunity for Rhode Island to adapt an idea from the private sector to provide a unique environment for students while also repurposing a vacant cultural landmark.(g)
(g) A school conversion project might be eligible to receive funding from the state’s School Building Authority Capital Fund, which has resources specifically set aside for school construction.55
The Future of McCoy Stadium
McCoy Stadium has been an iconic and integral part of the Pawtucket landscape for much of the twentieth century. The potential departure of the PawSox baseball team would be mourned, but could also be looked upon as an opportunity to give new purpose to McCoy. Whether through the establishment of much-needed housing for Rhode Island's families or the creation of a regionally renowned school to train tomorrow's baseball stars, the future of McCoy Stadium could be bright if the property is repurposed to both maintain its historic character and serve the community.
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What should Pawtucket do with McCoy Stadium if the Pawtucket Red Sox leave?
Type of Research