With the end of the pandemic on the horizon, Brett Johnson is focused on bringing crowds to places where they’ve never been.
Johnson and his partner Dan Kroeber operate Fortuitous Partners, a funding platform that invests in professional sports and real estate zones in mid-sized cities. Their latest destination? Pawtucket, Rhode Island: population 72,000.
Investing in a professional sports team in a city the size of Pawtucket is, of course, uncommon. It’s happening because Johnson acquired rights to a Rhode Island United Soccer League (USL) Championship franchise in 2018, before winning a Request for Proposal from the city of Pawtucket to develop and build a home pitch on the city’s river waterfront.
“We have the right sport and the right league to do it,” he says. First, a soccer field is inherently more versatile than other sports arenas and pitches. It can accommodate lacrosse, rugby, and American football, as well as outdoor arts and culture events, he points out. He also notes that soccer is becoming increasingly popular across the country, especially with the World Cup coming back to the U.S. in 2026.
The 25-acre development, the Tidewater Landing, won’t just be a soccer pitch, but rather a hub for sports and recreation.
The new $400 million development right off the I-95 highway, 45 minutes south of downtown Boston, will include an outdoor stadium with capacity for over 10,000 people, an indoor field house for adult and youth sports leagues (basketball, tennis, volleyball etc), training facilities for professional teams, space for day camps, and recreational outdoor fields. Johnson envisions the stadium as home not only to the soccer franchise, but to outdoor concerts and festivals too.
The development will also include an Indoor Event Centre, opportunities for e-gaming, a hotel, new public parks, a foot bridge, and walking paths on each side of the river.
To Johnson and Kroeber, the pay-off is clear. In his presentation at CityAge’s event, Johnson outlined that the project is set to bring in over 2,000 full time equivalent jobs, $4.5 billion in net new spending, and over $3 billion in net new earnings.
Construction of the Tidewater Landing is coming at a good time too, as COVID-19 slowly loosens its grip on the United States and people are itching to get back to regular life. “There’s an appetite and a hunger for the new normal,” Johnson says.
There’s certainly potential for similar investments in the country’s other secondary markets according to Johnson, but he says creating a standardized method to doing it is tricky.
“No two snowflakes are the same, no two markets are the same,” he says.
Johnson says the feedback to the project has been “overwhelmingly positive” pretty much across the board, and on both sides of the political aisle. Though there have been very few opponents to the project, he notes that they’ve run into some “pockets of resistance” locally, adding that such responses are to be expected in any real estate project. He emphasizes that any opposition has been extremely minor.
In terms of what’s next for Johnson and Kroeber after Pawtucket, Johnson says they have offers and ideas rolling in constantly for new developments and potential partnerships. But interest in these pocket-sized developments is high.
“Our cup is so positively overflowing at the moment, truly every couple weeks we get a phone call from someone,” said Johnson, who adds the Tidewater Landing development, and other similar investments, foster community just as much as economic drive.
“Those individuals in those communities are not going to have to go to Massachusetts to watch a soccer game, or New York to watch a soccer game. They can stay and root on their own team. I think over time the pride inherent in having your own team makes a big difference.”