Expos drop ball-park land

Mike King, Stephanie Myles/The Gazette

Thursday, August 24th, 2000
Future playoff pennants for the Montreal Expos appear to have been replaced by a white flag.

The baseball club has surrendered its lease option on downtown property it selected as the site for a long-awaited new stadium.

"This effectively puts an end to 212 years of negotiations," Gordon McIvor of Canada Lands Co. Ltd. acknowledged yesterday.

McIvor, vice-president (public and government affairs) of the crown corporation, said he received confirmation Tuesday that the Expos don't intend to renew the lease option at the end of the month.

It came in the form of a letter dated Aug. 21 and signed by team vice-president (finance) Michel Bussiere.

However, a spokesman for the Expos' majority owner said the club hasn't abandoned plans for a new park - unless an ownership dispute can't be resolved.

"First of all, we couldn't give Canada Lands a precise date for the start of construction of a new stadium," Andre Bouthillier said on behalf of lead owner Jeffrey Loria.

"Why? Because until we reach a settlement with the local ownership, we can't deal with the ball-park issue," Bouthillier said.

"Secondly, Canada Lands has said publicly it hoped to sell that land as soon as possible, and we don't want to leave them in a situation where they can't sell it."

Bouthillier said the team "would be willing to talk to them again if they can't sell it. We don't think Canada Lands will sell the land right away, so we still have time."

"It's a sad piece of news to us," McIvor said in a phone interview from his Toronto office.

"This would have been a really great project for the city."

He recalled that the Expos originally wanted to purchase the 4.45-hectare parcel of land at Peel and St. Jacques Sts., near the Molson Centre.

"Then they became more interested in leasing long-term," McIvor said.

Since that initial interest in the winter of 1998, Canada Lands has given the ball club five extensions "and would have considered a sixth one," he added.

But "unless they change their mind by midnight Aug. 31, the property is going back on the market."

McIvor said both sides "still have a very good relationship" and "our door will always be open to them."

In Los Angeles, David Samson, Expos executive vice-president, said the owners "had no choice" but to let the option lapse.

"We were not in a position right now to continue funding that option," he said. "It just did not make sense.

"All we ask is that we have the right to look at the deal again if they (Canada Lands) get another suitor.

"And we're not just turning our back on the new stadium in Montreal because, again, we have no reason to believe the team is going anywhere."

Jacques Menard, co-chairman of the Expos ownership committee, told a television station yesterday that "we let Mr. Loria know last week that we hoped to keep that (lease) option open."

Loria announced last week that he would put up as much as $19 million of his own money to cover club salaries and operating costs for the remainder of the season.

The team's fate seems to depend on moving from the Olympic Stadium to an open ball park that is more centrally situated.

Bouthillier also played down persistent rumours that Loria intends to sell the Expos and move the club to the U.S.

"He said there have been no discussions with any American city about moving the team. What he wants most of all is to settle the issue with the Quebec shareholders."

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