By Stephanie Myles

By the time the Expos get to the end of this forsaken season, we will know whether or not the franchise stays around to see the new millennium.

That's as close to a deadline as there is likely to be, with that word so overused throughout this saga. But Expos chairman Jacques Menard, who leads the group seeking to take over the team with the help of prospective new majority partner Jeffrey Loria, gave those parameters last night at Olympic Stadium.

"Over the next few weeks, and particularly in the month of September, we should see the conclusion of this - one way or the other," Menard said.

There's nothing new to report. Negotiations with the Loria group continue. "They're a serious group. They're a quality group of people. But even in a negotiation like this, there are a zillion issues that need to be addressed that are financial and non-financial," Menard said. "We're in the midst of those right now, and the negotiations are going on in a very businesslike manner."

According to insiders, one of those issues is decision-making power. Current president Claude Brochu has that power - as mandated, with some variations, by Major League Baseball - even if he hasn't always used it.

The corporate investments made by most of the remaining partners might dictate they now would require some say in the Montreal market - particularly with an American owner coming in. And it takes time. Menard pointed out that the last time the team was sold, in 1991, it took 18 months to finalize a sale under rather more auspicious circumstances. "And we didn't have to build a stadium at the time," Menard said. "We shouldn't be shocked that in nine months, we haven't done double the work. I'm certainly not shocked."

There seems to have been a public shift in recent weeks in the comments from baseball commissioner Bud Selig about the Expos' situation, even though the question of where the team will play next season still looms as a decision that has to be made, and soon. Selig also said there hadn't seemed to be much progress in the last three months.

While Menard said Selig's encouraging words didn't surprise him, he pointed out that the quality of certain potential new investors that haven't been put out in public - Stephen Bronfman likely among them -could have contributed to the loosening of a few tongues.

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