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Bronfman: Rays Proposal is Key First Step to MLB Return to Montreal

Montreal ExposStephen Bronfman, who has spearheaded a possible return of Major League Baseball to Montreal via The Montreal Group, says a proposal for a split-season arrangement with the Tampa Bay Rays is an important first step in what’s sure to be a long process.

So far the focus has been on the Tampa Bay side of the equation, with Rays owner Stuart Sternberg meeting with the press yesterday to discuss his proposal, the ballpark issues and other logistical challenges. Today it was Bronfman’s turn to lay out the case for a unique split-season arrangement. Plenty of obstacles would have to be overcome to make the idea a reality, but the plan could include new open-air ballparks in both markets. The open-air designs would result in lower construction costs, while allowing the Rays to plan their schedule around optimal weather conditions–spring and early summer games could be played in the Tampa Bay region, with summer and early fall games in Montreal. While the Montreal Expos certainly achieved some highs and lows during the team’s days at Jarry Park Stadium and Olympic Stadium, the market is fondly remembered in baseball circles, and the growth of the market has certainly not gone unnoticed by MLB officials. The move to bring MLB baseball back to Montreal has been led by The Montreal Group and headed by Bronfman, who along with other prominent local investors and developers have pitched a mixed-use development near downtown Montreal that would feature a new ballpark.

It doesn’t sound like that development plan has changed, even though the economics of the ballpark may have changed because of the lower number of home games. A retractable roof facility isn’t in the works, and it doesn’t sound like there are any plans to construction a ballpark that can have a roof added in the future. From the Montreal Gazette:

“When it comes to preparing the (construction) footings for something different, we’ll have to see. We had Jarry Park and that worked out pretty well. We can put on an extra pair of pants and some thick socks. The economics of building today — if you’re putting in those footings and you’re putting in the structure for a domed stadium, think about all the steel, all the wiring, all the costs that go in to add your cheapest seats in the upper sections where you’re deriving the lowest value in dollars for your seats, it doesn’t make much sense. … Everyone loses out four or five games a year, and then we have fantastic doubleheaders.”

On the touchy point of public funding, Bronfman said, “we’ve kind of just kept back instead of spending dollars because we didn’t have a viable project yet. Now it’s time to start investing in the real diligence, time to see how things are going to work out. It’s a team effort and we have to work out exactly what that team mix is going to be.”…

While Bronfman and right-hand man Pierre Boivin shied away from timetables, they did say that it will take one year of planning and two years to build a new stadium. If you’re looking for a hint, Bronfman offered a nod to his father, Charles, the original owner of the Montreal Expos. “My dad is 88,” he said, “and I want him to be at the first Expos game.”

Yes, he referred to the new team as the Expos.

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