Support Fadding of Expos; City, province fed up wit team

Allison Hanes, Linda Gyulai/The Gazette

Friday, August 25th, 2000
"I am very sad," he said yesterday about managing partner Jeffrey Loria's decision not to renew an option on a parcel of land earmarked for a downtown stadium. "We (the city) will be the last to sell our shares."

But he had harsh words about the attitude of the owners.

"I haven't seen a marketing plan, I haven't had my phone calls returned, they haven't accepted any of my offers to come to city hall and discuss this," he said. "I can't say there's much of a plan to develop baseball in Montreal."

Jean Fortier, chairman of Montreal city council's executive committee, echoed the mayor's sentiments.

"This doesn't mean that baseball has no hope in Montreal," Fortier said. "But this certainly is a bad omen for everyone involved in the plan to build a new stadium in Montreal."

The city had okayed zoning changes, waived property taxes and watered down a number of conditions put on the construction of the 36,000-seat ballpark.

Councillor Michel Prescott, leader of the opposition at Montreal city hall, said it looks as if this time, the writing is on the wall for the Expos.

He said it's time for owner Loria to put his cards on the table.

"I'm afraid it's another nail in the coffin of the Expos," said Prescott, of the Montreal Citizens' Movement. "You have to face reality. I'm asking Mr. Loria to make clear once and for all what is reality. I think that's the problem for investors here. They do not know what is the true intention of Mr. Loria."

Although no one was quite ready to sound the death knell for the Expos yesterday, provincial officials also expressed frustration and said they will make no more heroic efforts to save the National League baseball team, leaving its fate solely in the hands of its owners.

In Quebec City, Finance Minister Bernard Landry said the province has done its best. "I haven't heard anyone say it's over yet," he said, "but as far as we are concerned we have done all we are going to do."

The Quebec government had agreed to cover the interest on a $100-million loan for the construction of a new downtown ballpark, amounting to about $8 million a year. Over a 35-year period, the province would have shelled out $115 million.

A new downtown stadium was seen as necessary to keep the team in town, and the owners had made five renewals of their option to buy the 4.45-hectare parcel of land bordered by St. Jacques, Peel, Notre Dame and Mountain Sts. from the federal government.

Although the option could be picked up again in case of a renewal of interest, Landry said the province is out of the game for now. "It's up to the private sector to play a role now, and I wish them every success," he said.

Last week Loria said he would put up as much as $19 million of his own money to cover club salaries and operating costs for the rest of the season.

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