I would also be remiss if I didn't thank my co-host, Pat Ford - better known to many as "Pat from Cumberland" or the PO Taxpayer- for the yeoman's work that he did in organizing yesterday's protest and many of the speakers that attended.
Now, on to the presentation by Skeffington et al.
First, let me tell you what this blog post WON'T be. This will not be a regurgitation of SkeffCo's delusional, overly optimistic framing of this taxpayer funded quagmire. You can get that from any number of other "news" outlets here in the Biggest Little. This will also not be a repeating of the imaginary numbers put forth by SkeffCo at yesterdays meeting. Again, there are plenty of other sources if you want to get a look inside Jim Skeffington's imagination.
The project's architects are truly gifted. The plans and renderings presented at the meeting were impressive, and included quite a bit of public space. Public amenities like a riverwalk, a small ballfield for local kids to use, and a concourse that the architects kept referring to as "a place for farmers' markets." It looked nice, but by the fourth or fifth time I heard "farmers' market" I knew that they were just pandering to Rhode Island's bustling local food scene.
Of particular interest to Providence residents were the results of a traffic study performed by SkeffCo. Not surprisingly, they assured that there would be negligible impact to traffic and parking around the stadium, which drew a hearty guffaw from the citizens gathered in the meeting. The SkeffCo consultant said that their study found that the traffic congestion would be, "no worse than it already is..." I'm sure that is of little comfort to the businesses and residents in the neighborhoods surrounding the proposed stadium site. In a touch of delicious irony, Skeffington, Lucchino, and their band of consultants were driven into Providence. It's really easy to be oblivious to traffic and parking when you're not in the drivers seat and you get dropped off at the front door of your destination while your driver finds a parking spot.
Needless to say, SkeffCo continued to promote a vision of the park that would be an amenity to Providence. At one point, Skeffington said that the new stadium would be a source of "civic pride." I can agree with the amenity factor, but when phrases like "economic catalyst", "economic engine" and "spurring development of biotech" start to be bandied about, I have to balk. I have read too many research papers on the subject of subsidised sports stadiums in the past few weeks to buy into the new stadium as an effective economic driver. On that note, here's your homework.
There was a glimmer of hope in the presentation, and it came from members of the I-195 Commission itself. It seemed that they were asking all the right questions. I would go so far as to say that many members weren't buying what SkeffCo was selling. Questions about the cost of relocating utilities, the Cloudcuckooland traffic study, and building a stadium in a flood zone that is susceptible to damage from hurricanes fell from more than a few commission members mouths. I have to give a shout out to the Providence Journal's Kate Bramson, whose follow-up in todays paper focuses on the commissions decidedly pointed questions to SkeffCo. Well done, Kate.
I did manage to sneak into the post-meeting press conference with commission head honcho Joe Azrack and RI Commerce Sec. Stefan Pryor. Below you'll find the audio of the questions that I had for them, and their "answers." Pay special attention to the third question... and the uncomfortable pause before the response. Priceless.