Working on Fine Print

By David Johnston

A team of negotiators with the Quebec Ministry of Finance continues to work on some of the fine print associated with the government's commitment to help fund a new downtown stadium for the Expos, but a formal announcement of the terms and conditions isn't expected for another two weeks.

An official of Forum Communications, the firm handling public relations for the group of Expos owners trying to buy out managing partner Claude Brochu, said that talks are going "very, very well" between negotiators for the government and the dissident owners group.

Last month, Finance Minister Bernard Landry said the government had agreed to assume $7 million or $8 million in annual debt-servicing costs for a new stadium, a commitment that he said would allow a new Expos ownership group, without Brochu, to borrow $100 million on capital markets.

The Forum Communications official, who asked not to be named, said details of the government financing agreement won't be made public until Major League Baseball gives its approval to the aid package and the dozen or so new investors that have pledged to put up $125 million in private money to help save the team and build a new stadium. The lead investor is New York art-dealer Jeffrey Loria, who is ready to put up $70 million.

The dissident owners trying to buy out Brochu have received three sealed bids from engineering consortiums for stadium constructions that would cost in the order of $175 million.

Brochu has agreed to a $15-million buyout price, but won't sell his 7.6-per-cent interest in the club unless financing is in place for a new stadium, and unless any new ownership group is willing to commit itself to keeping the Expos in Montreal for at least 20 years.

"Mr. Loria is more interested in the Expos than ever," the Forum Communications official said. "One day soon, he will surely be given the green light (by Major League Baseball). His commitment will not be a problem. But he can't come to Montreal until baseball approves everything and makes it all official." Jacques Menard and the other Expos owners were not commenting. Menard's office has been referring calls to Forum Communications.

Landry announced the government's financing commitment after a meeting with Menard and other Expos owners in Quebec City on March 24. The minister said terms and conditions of the debt-servicing pledge would probably be in place "within seven to 10 days." But the Forum Communications official said the process was taking a little bit longer, partly because of the four-day government Easter holiday



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