By Stephanie Myles
Jeffrey Loria, long discussed as the major investor who would replace Claude Brochu as the Expos' general partner, is in the house.
This is a major development, confirming to those who thought he was the figment of an Expo fan's overactive imagination that the New York art dealer is made of real flesh and blood. Yesterday, Loria met with the members of the ownership group looking to keep the team in Montreal, as well as with some civic leaders.
Expos chairman of the board Jacques Menard said the idea is to start getting Loria acclimated to the unique culture here in Quebec.
"We've put some elements in place so that gradually, Jeffrey can raise his learning curve, so that no faux pas are made - a la Wal-Mart a few years ago," Menard said.
Meanwhile, pharmacy magnate Jean Coutu has once again come out with some inflammatory statements about the new survival plan, just as he did last year when current general partner Claude Brochu was trying to sell seat licenses for the proposed downtown stadium.
Coutu, who evidently has been approached to be part of the fresh local investment in the team, insists that several conditions be met before he makes a financial commitment. One is to name the proposed new downtown ball park Jackie Robinson Labatt Stadium, in honour of the former Montreal Royal who broke baseball's colour barrier in 1947.
Coutu also has ideas about a Montreal salary "cap," to be limited to 90 per cent of the average baseball payroll. He also insists the cost of the new stadium would have to be capped at $180 million. The latest estimates on the design for the new ball park reportedly come in at around $200 million.
Loria, whose potential investment is said to be in the area of $75 million, is still keeping a low profile - although all that could change today, when it's possible the group will make some kind of public statement.
Loria and the "new" ownership were said to have decided yesterday which of the three designs for the proposed new downtown stadium would be selected, as well as discussing some fine points of the revamped business plan.