RHODE AHEAD: A rendering of the Tidewater Landing development, including a new USL stadium along the waterfront in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. (LaBella/Odell)


Rhode Island’s first standalone pro sports venue development lies in the capable hands of David Peart and Paul Byrne, two industry executives with years of experience opening big league facilities.

Tidewater Stadium is the working title for the $132 million soccer project in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, the fourth smallest state in the union with 1.1 million residents. The stadium, with capacity running 10,500 to 11,000 seats, is the future home of Rhode Island FC, a member of the USL Championship league, the second-highest level of professional soccer in North America.

The stadium, a public/private investment, is expected to open in the second quarter of 2025.

Peart came on board this month as Rhode Island FC president. His 40-year career covers stints with the Dallas Stars, Texas Rangers, Houston Texans, San Francisco 49ers and the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he led the marketing of Consol Energy Center, now PPG Paints Arena. At the time it opened in 2010, the arena fell a bit under the radar in a monster year for new buildings among MetLife Stadium, Target Field, Amway Center and KFC Yum! Center.

Byrne, filling the role of Tidewater Stadium’s general manager for the past two years, ran FedEx Field for the NFL’s Washington Commanders after spending more than 15 years in Major League Soccer with the Houston Dynamo and New York Red Bulls. The Dynamo opened BBVA Compass Stadium, now Shell Energy Stadium, in 2012, at the time Byrne served as director of operations.

This season, they oversee Rhode Island FC’s first year of existence. The team’s temporary home is Beirne Stadium, a small college venue at Bryant University in Smithville, R.I., about 15 miles northwest of Pawtucket.

Five years have passed since the Tidewater Stadium project was publicly announced in 2019. The final piece of structural steel for the new stadium was installed on June 14. It’s one of about three dozen USL stadium projects on the books over the past five years, many of which are tied to mixed-use developments in secondary markets.

Designed by Odell, a Charlotte, N.C. design firm which is part of LaBella Associates, and built by Dimeo Construction, the venue will anchor Tidewater Landing, a proposed mixed-use district next to the stadium, spanning 25 acres on both sides of the Seekonk River.

The waterfront land, a brownfield site, has gone undeveloped for 50 years.

Fortuitous Partners, whose principals include Brett Johnson, Rhode Island FC’s co-owner, is spearheading the mixed-use piece. The environmental cleanup, administered by Rhode Island Energy, the property owner, cost about $25 million to remediate and cap the site, which had seen contaminated soil seeping into the river for years, Byrne said.

In addition, the initial project cost of $80 million to $90 million ballooned to $132 million due to big increases in the cost of construction materials and borrowing money to help fund the project, according to local reports.

FEEL THE BYRNE: Paul Byrne, far right, fills the role of general manager for Tidewater Stadium, set to open in 2025. (Courtesy venue)

“It’s unheard of that developers would look to put a stadium on top of a brownfield, but here we are,” Byrne said. “It’s been quite an undertaking, and it’s amazing that we’re able to tell the story as it comes out of the ground.”

On the plus side, Peart said the stadium and surrounding Tidewater Landing development, including 550 housing units, retail and office space, represent a transformative project for Pawtucket. A pedestrian bridge will connect the stadium and new development across both sides of the river, which expected to take place over the next two years.

“Ten days into the job, the point that struck me is that there isn’t anything like this between Boston and New York, that valuable niche of 10,000 to 12,500 capacity,” he said. “It will be a unique destination for Rhode Islanders and other individuals in the region. It gives us an opportunity to do some special things.”

Bryne, who’s familiar with the challenges of building an urban soccer facility from his five-year tenure with the MetroStars, who later became the Red Bulls, said he plans to aggressively book events year-round in Pawtucket, given the New England climate. He’s talking about installing an ice rink during the winter months for public use, similar to what minor league ballparks have done over the years. High school and state championships will be held at the soccer stadium.

Due to its riverfront site, Rhode Island FC could potentially build a marina tied to the stadium to create a different experience for the patrons, he said.

“Gillette Stadium is about 45 minutes away, but there’s really no comparison,” Byrne said. “We have a niche here in this state, and have been in conversations with other leagues, including the NWSL, as well as lacrosse and rugby. We have (setups for) rugby, American football and soccer goal posts. We can do up to 16,000 for concerts. The possibilities are endless; we’ll be pushing as hard as we can to make sure we’re maximizing use.”

FULL SUPPORT: Rhode Island FC supporters rally the troops for the June 14 steel topping ceremony. (Courtesy venue)

The setup for concerts is a bit different, considering the site constraints, framed by the river and I-95 which runs by the stadium, said veteran sports architect Mike Woollen, Odell’s president and chief operating officer.

The concept is to place the stage on the east side at midfield, with most of the premium seat mix along two tiers on the west side facing the structure. The sideline setup effectively reduces the viewing distance to the stage, bringing the overall crowd closer to the act, Woollen said.

“It was partly to capture views to the river and from the riverwalk back into the stadium, and partly, to optimize the viewing for the premium seating on the west side,” he said. “If someone wants to put the stage in the end zone they can, but on the east side, we have a small, more flexible arrangement of seating, so we don’t lose that many seats if we put the stage on that side.”

Pawtucket, a working-class city, is recognized as the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution and was once populated by several mills, most notably, historic Slater Mill, which sits up river a few hundred yards from the stadium site. As a result, the stadium’s design language speaks to that heritage with brick walls, metal panels and exposed painted steel, Woollen said.

Peart is leading the effort to build a season ticket base for Rhode Island FC. He’s started a priority list and is also in the process of identifying a naming rights sponsor and founding partners. Team officials plan to hire a third party agency to help sell naming rights. Premium seat sales will be handled in-house and the team is putting the final touches on pricing, he said.

The stadium will have 10 suites and about 500 club seats, with a dozen loge boxes dotting the four corners of the building, designed with roof cover and a fantastic view of the pitch. Peart knows the sweet spot for the mid-priced inventory after seeing high demand for similar products in Pittsburgh.

Supporters groups, such as Defiance 1636, will occupy about 400 seats in the south end zone. That group already boasts about 150 members, which Byrne said is impressive, given the short time Rhode Island FC has been in existence.

“They’re stewards in the community,” he said. “Typically, with some of these groups, they go in a different tack when working with the front office. They’re doing all the right things to put themselves and us in great position to set the tone for an authentic soccer experience in the building.”