The Toronto Blue Jays’ latest exhibitions at Olympic Stadium are in the books, but discussions of MLB’s possible return to Montreal are unlikely to die down anytime soon.
Tuesday marked the last of two spring-training games featuring the Blue Jays and Milwaukee Brewers at Olympic Stadium, the last home of the Montreal Expos. When the Blue Jays’ annual visit rolls around, it prompts plenty of nostalgia for the Expos and talks of whether MLB will ever return to the city. While there is still a lot of work to do in Montreal, it feels as though recent momentum could help push discussions of MLB’s return forward.
The Montreal Group—led by Stephen Bronfman, son of original Expos owner Charles Bronfman—has steadily been making progress, commissioning economic studies and touting the city’s success as an international trade center. Just last month, one of the bigger breakthroughs in the group’s effort came to light, as it was revealed that a site at Peel Basin, just off downtown Montreal, was being targeted as the preferred location for a project that could include a new ballpark.
While the preferred location for a new ballpark has been revealed, the Montreal Group still must obtain the site, which is under control of the federal government. To that end, it has registered as lobbyists in order to negotiate a sale or transfer for a new ballpark and Bronfman recently indicated that those discussions are moving along.
Although that discussion process is not at all final, the idea of a new ballpark at the group’s preferred site provides some vision of how the project would take shape. A new facility could reflect modern trends by anchoring a larger development initiative, with Devimco and Bronfman’s Claridge Inc. involved in the effort. Furthermore, its site would be much closer to downtown Montreal than Olympic Stadium, which has long been lamented as being too far removed from the city’s core. (A planned light-rail line in the area of the potential ballpark would also boost accessibility.)
Ultimately, Montreal still has a lot of work to do, and any vision of a new ballpark and team is still preliminary. In addition to obtaining the control of the land and assembling the investment needed for a new team and ballpark, Montreal’s backers also have to find an opening from MLB.
It has been clear that expansion is on MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s radar, but the jump to 32 teams is likely not imminent given some of the league’s pressing facility situations. The Oakland A’s are trying to replace the antiquated Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum with a new ballpark at the Port of Oakland’s Howard Terminal, while the Tampa Bay Rays have faced some uncertainties since their talks of a new ballpark in Tampa’s Ybor City collapsed in December. Since those discussions ended, the Rays have been increasingly speculated as a relocation candidate, but the club is locked into a Tropicana Field lease that runs through 2027 and it could take a closer look at possibly remaining in St. Petersburg.
Given those factors, and the work needed on any ballpark plan, Montreal has a long way to go before the return of MLB as an imminent possibility takes shape. Still, it can claim something that few other prospective markets can at this point: A deep-pocked investor group that is mapping out the plan for a new ballpark, while methodically building a case that a team can work economically. Time will tell is these efforts pay off, but from where it sits right now, Montreal is steadily building a plan that could very well entice MLB down the road.
Photo from 2017 Olympic Stadium exhibition by Zach Spedden.
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