I have a strange impression of the possible return of Major League Baseball to Montreal.
Not because of the end goal. I support the idea if the cost to taxpayers – do not doubt, it will come! – is acceptable. I have always believed that a professional team strengthens the dynamics of a city and unites the inhabitants.
On the other hand, I do not like the opacity that surrounds the project. Stephen Bronfman’s silence becomes more problematic with each passing day. It is obvious that negotiations between the groups in Montreal and Tampa Bay are progressing, but Montrealers and all Quebecers are being kept in the dark.
If this possible association were a strictly private matter, it would be acceptable. But this is not the case. The construction of a baseball stadium at Peel Basin will have an impact on the urban fabric.
How will this building fit into the development of the neighborhood? How to respond to the concerns of citizens who prefer the establishment of social housing? How much public assistance will Bronfman likely request? How to ensure that the building does not become a 10-year-old white elephant if Montreal’s passion for baseball is not as strong as hoped?
The government of Quebec is just as close to detail, and openness does not characterize the process.
Nevertheless, citizens should not face retaliation when decisions are made behind closed doors. That would be the worst way to go.
In our Tuesday edition, the two main candidates for mayor, Valérie Plante and Denis Coderre, commented on the latest developments regarding a possible “shared custody” between Montreal and Tampa Bay. Their warning intensified my discomfort.
Plante argues that the idea must be studied by prioritizing “consultation of the population” in the district where the stadium was to be built; Coderre, for his part, claims that the project is “correct” if it is carried out in “a development context”.
I have nothing against “consultations” or “development contexts”. But can Plante and Coderre be more precise? Bringing up vague notions like these was understandable in recent months. But things have changed.
First, the Tampa Bay Ray’s desire to announce the concept of “shared custody” with Montreal during their home games illustrates how serious the process is.
The organization finally rejected the idea on Tuesday in order not to create unnecessary distraction in the playoffs, but it would not have expressed this desire without a real will to move on.
Then the race for mayor enters its critical phase. If Plante and Coderre do not dissect this issue during the election campaign, when will they do so? After all, this problem risks causing waves in the first months of the next period.
Here are four questions that deserve more concrete answers from Plante and Coderre.
1- If you win on November 7, will the return of baseball in the major league be a priority for your administration?
This problem is crucial as it makes it possible to measure their real interest. We all know Coderre’s passion for baseball. But Plante also positioned herself skillfully when she met Bronfman in April 2018.
To what extent are the mayor and her main rival ready to put their political weight in the adventure after the election? Are they convinced that the return to Major League Baseball provides great support across the city? Do they see this prospect as an extraordinary resource for Montreal or a welcome addition, but far from being a priority?
2- Does the construction of a new stadium at Peel Basin fit with your vision for the development of the neighborhood?
Is a new stadium necessarily the best way to revitalize this district? Should other roads be considered instead, such as the construction of affordable housing and community infrastructure? And if this stadium is built, will it be possible to integrate it into the neighborhood without distorting unity?
Do you want to support Stephen Bronfman in his quest for financial support from the Quebec government?
I am not talking here about facade support, primarily intended for public opinion, but rather about a committed and strong approach. For without the full support of its mayor, such an enterprise can hardly succeed. The example of Quebec City is revealing.
In 1995, Mayor Jean-Paul L’Allier opposed the construction of a new Colosseum for the Nordic countries. As a result, the team was transferred to Colorado. Fifteen years later, Mayor Régis Labeaume fought for the Quebec government to largely fund the construction of a new amphitheater. He won his bet. His leadership made the difference.
That said, nothing forces the two candidates to invest this way if they have reservations about returning baseball. This choice would be understandable. But it would have been nice if they told us that.
4- Will your administration invest public funds in the project?
The mayor said on Tuesday that her administration would not invest in the construction of the stadium. Is his rival as sharp? If the Bronfman group asks for tax breaks or sums to connect the stadium to municipal equipment (waterworks, roads, etc.), what will they answer?
Across North America, the potential arrival of a professional sports team is big business. Montreal is no exception to this rule. Like it or not, this story will create huge media interest.
That is why openness to all stakeholders is crucial. This also applies to the government of Quebec. The Canadian Taxpayers’ Union reminded Finance Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon. This is even more true when a billionaire industry like baseball in the major league asks governments for help.