All's Now Quiet on the Expos Front

By David Johnson/The Gazette

All three parties involved in negotiations over the sale of the Expos have agreed to a news blackout as they spend the next few days trying to resolve some serious issues threatening the franchise's future in Montreal.

Marc Parson, an official of Forum Communications, a Montreal public-relations firm, said yesterday that "everybody has decided to really concentrate on" resolving what club chairman Jacques Menard referred to Wednesday as "substantive issues" standing in the way of the Expos' re-launch project.

Forum has been acting on behalf of the Menard-led group of existing shareholders that wants to buy out general partner Claude Brochu and bring in two groups of new investors - a U.S. group led by Jeffrey Loria of New York and a local group that includes Stephen Bronfman and Jean Coutu.

Parson said the three groups, notably Roger Samson of the Menard group, won't be giving public statements "in the coming days or coming week" as they enter a crucial round of negotiations that will see them meet "on a daily basis, sometimes with more than one meeting going on at the same time."

Menard's comment Wednesday in Cooperstown, N.Y., was the first public admission by any member of the three groups that negotiations to reconfigure the club's ownership and build a new downtown stadium have hit a serious impasse.

The current Expos ownership is a limited partnership that confers on the general partner, Brochu, virtual complete decision-making authority, and requires other partners to maintain a passive involvement. These other partners want to play a more active role, but Loria, who is poised to invest $75 million to become the new general partner, would lose power if the new ownership were to be reconfigured along more traditional business lines, where decisions are taken by majority vote of a board of directors.

Brochu has agreed to a $15-million buyout, but only on the condition that the new ownership guarantees to keep the Expos in Montreal for at least 20 years. Menard said recently such a guarantee would necessitate writing into the deed of sale a clause requiring the new owners to pay a penalty if they moved the Expos out of Montreal before an agreed-upon number of years.

It has been speculated that the likely penalty would be the stadium's unpaid mortgage balance. In fact, the government of Quebec was careful to write into its legal commitment to provide the Expos with $7 million or $8 million in annual debt servicing a proviso absolving itself of continuing to make payments if the Expos leave Montreal.

At no time has any of the three parties involved in the ownership talks said they have come to an agreement on a penalty clause.

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