There has been much optimism lately, without much fact to back it up, from the group of owners trying to keep the Expos in Montreal.
And along with that passion, some details emerged about what will be contained in the economic plan to be presented to premier Lucien Bouchard within the next two weeks.
While embattled president Claude Brochu took in the Expos' 1-0 loss to the Atlanta Braves yesterday, partnership committee chairman Jacques Menard and vice-chairman Raymond Bachand spent the day in Florida on conference calls, working on details of when and how the stadium plans will be presented, how non-profit organizations like Baseball-Quebec will be involved in a stadium that will ultimately belong to the people, and when negotiations with the federal government will begin on a long-term lease for the land on which the proposed downtown stadium would be built.
It's now clear that the business plan to be submitted to Premier Lucien Bouchard upon his return from a European trip will include a loan from the government - perhaps $100 million - that would be repaid with the income taxes collected from the players.
It's also clear that the politically connected group has been working behind the scenes to ensure that the proposal ultimately presented to Bouchard will not be rejected.
The argument is, of course, that if the team leaves Montreal, those millions in income taxes will also disappear.
Bachand threw out the following numbers yesterday:
Menard and Bachand were like Laurel & Hardy yesterday: both talking in rapid-fire French at once, their eyes literally aglow with enthusiasm. And every time Menard would itch to reveal more details, Bachand would rein him back in.
It appears more will be revealed early next week. But it also seems certain that, in some form, the new stadium will ultimately be owned by the community. The model is the DuMaurier tennis stadium, estimated by many to be one of the finest facilities of its kind in the world. Menard sits on the board of Tennis Canada, and the stadium was conceived as a partnership between amateur sport and the city of Montreal. For two weeks of the year, the stadium hosts a world-class tennis event. The rest of the time, it is used as a training centre for the best amateur tennis players in the province, and as a facility where players can rent court time without having to shell out expensive membership fees.
Add the fact that the construction project itself came in on time, under budget at about $24 million, and at a cost 30-per-cent less than what had been originally anticipated - and built by the same contractors who are bidding on the downtown stadium project - you can see where the optimism comes from.
Menard has been in contact with Baseball-Quebec over the last few weeks, looking at ways the proposed downtown stadium can be used for amateur baseball on days other than the 81 home dates needed for the Expos.
Another thing that became clear yesterday is that when Menard and Bachand finally meet with Bouchard - which they hope to do the week of March 22 - they will have done their homework.
When Bouchard says he hasn't yet seen a new business proposition, that might be splitting hairs.
The Expos chairman was amazed that there was no prospectus prepared that took into account the losses incurred while the team operated at Olympic Stadium.
Menard described the two aspects involved in any financial plan to keep the team in Montreal. The first is to finance the stadium, and the second is to re-capitalize enough to absorb the losses in the current stadium. "Even if someone just gave us the stadium, you still need capital to stay in the old one," he said. It appears that was a major hole in Brochu's earlier proposal to the government, given that Brochu refused to dilute his share of the team to allow a fresh infusion of capital to see the team through the building stages.
There was more talk yesterday: of urban renewal; of the cost of convincing tourists that if the baseball team left, that Montreal isn't a city in decline; of plans next week to meet with Canada Lands, the crown corporation that owns the land just south of the Molson Centre, to begin negotiations on a 20-year emphyteutic lease.
Menard was just as upbeat.