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USL Championship club part of $400M development proposal in Rhode Island

The new USL Championship team would begin play in 2022 in a 7,500-seat, privately financed stadium.

Professional soccer could be on its way to Pawtucket, R.I., thanks to a $400 million economic development project for the city’s waterfront. The plans include a 7,500-seat stadium for a USL Championship team, as well as an indoor sports center, housing units, and retail and community spaces.

The project, known as Tidewater Landing, is the largest such undertaking in the city’s history, Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien and Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo said Monday.

As part of the development, the new Pawtucket USL Championship franchise would begin play in 2022. The league currently fields 34 teams in the second tier of professional soccer in the United States.

Fortuitous Partners, a real estate investment firm founded by Brett Johnson, who also co-chairs the USL Championship’s Phoenix Rising FC, will privately fund the soccer stadium’s construction.

“This initiative will transform the area by maximizing Pawtucket’s many assets to create a vibrant live, work and play environment,” Johnson said in a prepared statement. “The combination of a successful USL Championship club and the surrounding mixed-use development will make Tidewater Landing a destination of civic pride for decades to come.”

Tidewater Landing will be accessible from downtown Pawtucket via bridge that crosses the Seekonk River.

The development will include 200 housing units; a 200-room hotel; 100,000 square feet of retail, food and community spaces; and 200,000 square feet of commercial office space. The soccer stadium will also be available for concerts and public sporting events, state officials said.

“Today is an exciting first step towards a $400 million investment in Pawtucket’s future,” Raimondo said in a prepared statement. “This economic development project will establish  a professional soccer team from a leading national league here in Rhode Island, revitalize the waterfront and downtown and create more than 3,500 jobs. Most importantly, it will transform this area into a vibrant hub of activity like we haven’t seen in decades.”

This isn’t Pawtucket’s first foray into sports. The city has been home to the Boston Red Sox’s minor league baseball affiliate — known colloquially as the Paw Sox — since 1970, though the team plans to relocate north to Worcester, Mass., in 2021. The city is also home to a handful of former professional baseball and basketball players, a three-time Boston Marathon winner, and an Olympic gold medalist in track and field.

Soccer is mostly absent from the city’s sports heritage, though the Rhode Island Reds of the fourth-tier National Premier Soccer League play roughly five miles away in Johnston, while the New England Revolution are stationed 25 minutes away in Foxborough, Mass.

Johnson, who purchased a minority share in Phoenix Rising in 2016 and helped oversee the club’s 2017 rebrand, said Monday that Rhode Island is a significant soccer market despite not being home to a professional club. He also said Rhode Islanders would help forge their new soccer identity when the new team crowd-sources its name. 

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