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PawSox president dies amid plan to move team to Providence

May 18, 2015

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The man who became the public face of a proposal to move the minor league Pawtucket Red Sox to a riverfront ballpark in Providence has died, leading to questions about the next step for the team.

James Skeffington, 73, president of the Pawtucket Red Sox, died Sunday of a heart attack while jogging near his home in Barrington, according to a team spokeswoman and his brother.

The team and Boston Red Sox President and CEO Larry Lucchino, a PawSox co-owner, expressed sadness over Skeffington’s death but wouldn’t touch on what it meant for the stadium effort.

“These are days for grieving,” Lucchino said Monday in a written statement. “There will be days ahead when we talk about the future of the PawSox.”

Others expressed concern about the fate of the team. Rep. Carlos Tobon, a Democrat from Pawtucket, said Skeffington was the biggest advocate for keeping the PawSox in the state.

“He was the glue of keeping it in Rhode Island,” Tobon said. “I don’t think the conversation is even about Providence right now. It’s about keeping them in Rhode Island.”

Skeffington bought the Triple-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox in February with a group that includes Lucchino and eight others.

When the ownership group announced the purchase of the team from the widow of its longtime owner, Ben Mondor, it also revealed a controversial and potentially expensive decision: The team would leave Pawtucket’s McCoy Stadium and hoped to build a stadium on state-owned land that was opened up by the relocation of Interstate 195.

Last month, the team proposed a deal under which it would pay $85 million to build a stadium, but it asked for help from taxpayers to the tune of $120 million over 30 years. It also wanted to be exempt from real estate taxes.

The plan landed with a thud. Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo said the plan was not fair to taxpayers, and many lawmakers came out against it. The team’s owners said this month that they’re working on a new approach, though they have given no details.

Skeffington in recent days had been visiting community groups and others to talk about his vision, making several pitches as recently as last week.

In Rhode Island, several elected officials expressed shock and sadness about Skeffington’s death and expressed their condolences to his family. They also had their own ideas about what this means for the future of the team.

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello called Skeffington a legend. He was a prominent lawyer who had been involved in high-profile development projects, including the Rhode Island Convention Center and Providence Place mall.

“It is tragic that he did not live long enough to see his vision for the Pawtucket Red Sox come to fruition, but he left a legacy that will live on for generations to come,” Mattiello said in a written statement.

Rep. Jean Philippe Barros, D-Pawtucket, said he doesn’t think Skeffington’s passing will change the ownership group’s plans.

“They’re going to go ahead with whatever their intentions were originally,” he said. “For me, based on the group that we know him to be a part of, I don’t see them doing things any differently.”

Providence City Council President Luis Aponte said it was time to allow Skeffington’s family to grieve.

“If and when there needs to be more conversation about relocating, we’ll be prepared to do that, even without his passion and vision,” he said.

“It seemed to me this was a project about legacy,” Aponte said. “It was something he wanted to give back to the city that had given him so much.”

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