Mysterious Texans Reveiled

The Texas investor said to be pondering an investment in the Expos is involved with a "very well-known" company currently talking to different levels of government about conditions for opening a plant in the Montreal area, a local investment consultant says.

The consultant, Luc Berlinguette, took Montreal Mayor Pierre Bourque to Houston last weekend to meet with some of the company's senior representatives.

Houston sources speculated the potential investor could be BMC Software, founded in 1980 by John Moores, no longer with the company but currently the owner of the San Diego Padres.

With revenues last year of $730 million U.S., BMC, a publicly traded company, was named last month by Fortune magazine as one of the top 100 companies in the United States for which to work. Business Week reported last year that the 10 most profitable companies in the world use BMC software.
"Some of the directors of the company said they know certain owners of Major League Baseball franchises very well and that they'd talk to them about persuading baseball to grant an extension," Berlinguette said. BMC officials had no comment yesterday. Berlinguette wouldn't identify the company, nor would Madeleine Champagne, an aide to Bourque.

Berlinguette, who arrived back in Montreal with Bourque Sunday night, said the Houston company told the mayor there is nothing it can do to help the Expos if Major League Baseball doesn't extend Saturday's deadline for the team to come up with new investors who can put together financing for a downtown baseball stadium.

But if the deadline is extended, Berlinguette added, the company said it would consider getting involved with the Expos, and if it did, it would look at eventually turning the ball club into some form of publicly traded company.

Berlinguette is chief financial officer of Le Groupe Vaugeois, a Montreal consultant firm. The firm earns money representing companies considering investing in Quebec; potential investors pay Vaugeois to try to wring favourable investment terms on their behalf from different levels of governments and the private sector.

At city hall last night, Bourque declined to reveal the identity of the potential Texan investors, but said they might prove to be formidable allies in keeping the Expos in Montreal.
"These people know about the baseball business. They have contacts in the business they can put us in touch with," Bourque said. "We can take advantage of their expertise to find a solution and to keep the stadium project moving."

But expertise is the only thing to which the Texans were willing to commit.
"We never discussed them investing directly in the franchise or in the stadium project. That was not on the agenda," Bourque said.

But the mayor's weekend meetings seem to have made him optimistic that a breakthrough is just around the corner. The only thing needed is more time, he said.
"The deadline (Saturday) has to be pushed back because there has been significant progress announced in the last few weeks. We need to come to a compromise with (Major League Baseball) and show them that the momentum is building.
"It would be foolish to stop now, when we're closer than ever."

Berlinguette, meanwhile, said Vaugeois has been negotiating in Quebec on behalf of the Houston company for more than a year. Champagne said the weekend meeting in Houston had been scheduled for some time, for the purpose of discussing the company's "big, big" Montreal investment plans, not the Expos per se. But she said Berlinguette had talked to the company about the ongoing Expos situation, and the company was interested in hearing more about it.

Most of the companies that Vaugeois has helped expand into Quebec, such as Ubi Soft of France, a software maker, are in the high-tech sector, which is booming in Montreal.

Berlinguette said he and Bourque returned to Montreal on Sunday at "midnight; actually, one minute to midnight, which is what time it is right now for the Expos."

He was referring to the deadline imposed on the club by Major League Baseball. Last Friday, the league said it was refusing to extend the deadline past Saturday. But at the same time, it said in a letter to Expos club chairman Jacques Menard that it would continue to work "through the next several weeks" with the group of dissident Expos owners trying to buy out managing partner Claude Brochu. Menard is spokesman for the group, which includes the Nesbitt Burns investment house, a minority owner of the club. Menard is deputy chairman of Nesbitt Burns, as well as chairman of Hydro-Quebec.

At a press conference Sunday at the Expos training facility in Jupiter, Fla., Menard said Bourque's weekend trip to Texas had come as a surprise to him. But he said if the Texan investors are serious, he'd be happy to see them join the effort to recapitalize the Expos and find financing for the stadium project.

Although it had been reported Saturday that the Texan investor had proposed building a new stadium with private money, Berlinguette said the company directors, in fact, "had a lot of questions about why Premier (Lucien) Bouchard was opposed to government financing of stadiums. They said in the U.S. it is common practice for governments to offer support, and asked why don't we do that here. I said Bouchard says he has other priorities."

Berlinguette said the Texans also discussed with Bourque ideas for turning the Expos into a publicly traded company, along the lines of the Boston Celtics, Cleveland Indians and Green Bay Packers. "There was a time here in Montreal when the Expos were talking about people being able to buy bricks to help build the stadium at $300 a brick," Berlinguette said. "But if you sell actual shares, it's more than just a donation. A share has a certain value. It's an idea that could be worth trying."

Yesterday, Prime Minister Jean Chretien was decidedly lukewarm when asked yet again whether the federal government will step in to save the Expos franchise.
"We're not in the business of helping sports teams," Chretien told reporters, noting the problem with the franchise now seems to be mainly an internal matter.
"It's a private enterprise. There's not, at this moment, a discussion on that. The problem that the baseball team faces seems to be internal at the moment."

Chretien said there are no official discussions taking place on the idea of selling or renting land owned by the federal government for a new downtown stadium.
"Apparently, they are interested in taking lands owned by the federal government. We can see if we can accommodate them, but I don't know at this time. There are no official discussions on this subject at this time.
"We have decided not to intervene," Chretien said while on a tour of the Canadian Space Agency in Saint-Hubert. "It's a purely hypothetical question. It's a professional sport, and there are risks for the investors, like in other sectors. Are there changes to make, I don't know. But I don't believe it."

In Ottawa, Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe said the federal government should not help the Expos in any way.
"There are programs for businesses - let them apply for those programs," Duceppe said. "No special measures, no money from the state. Let them do their homework."

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