The Montreal Expos: Coming Home?

Credit to Allen McCinnis - Montreal Gazette

On the year of their 50th anniversary, The Montreal Expos looked poised to make a return.

In 2004, Montreal lost their famed Major League Baseball (MLB) team, the Expos, as they relocated and became the Washington Nationals. Fifteen years later, there is a realistic hope that the Expos can return.

Baseball is still loved in the hearts of Montreal fans today. For the last six years, The Toronto Blue Jays have played a two-game exhibition series in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. In March, fans celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Expos franchise by attending the Jays’ series against the Milwaukee Brewers. Thousands of fans showed their Expos support by sporting team apparel and memorabilia. Evidently, there is an audience for live baseball; as Blue Jays President Mark Shapiro said, “Montreal is a city with great baseball history and tradition.” 

The return of the Expos is gaining traction from the MLB and support in Montreal, but it is still in its preliminary stages. Stephen Bronfman, son of former Expos owner Charles Bronfman and grandson of McGill’s Bronfman building namesake Samuel Bronfman, is taking a  prominent role in attempting to bring the team back to the city. He is the executive chairman at Claridge Inc. and he has been working with other business professionals in Montreal and the MLB to bring a team back to Montreal. Bronfman understands that this is a “lifetime project” but he has informed the public that progress with the city and the league has been made.  We “don’t have to say we need to be ready, we are ready,” he said to fans.

Stephen Bronfman, son of former Expos owner Charles Bronfman and grandson of McGill’s Bronfman building namesake Samuel Bronfman, is taking a  prominent role in attempting to bring the team back to the city.

Last week, Bronfman was spotted at the Tampa Bay Rays playoff game, with franchise owner Stuart Sternberg. The Rays have been rumored to be the leading candidate for a move to Montreal, as their popularity in Tampa is waning. Not only did Sternberg facilitate the purchase of tickets for Bronfman, but he has also explored options with the league for  having the Rays split a home season in between their Tropicana Stadium in Florida and one in Montreal. However, this would require the construction of a new stadium here first.

Bronfman and other Montreal-based associates have secured a $50 million parcel of land in the Peel Basinin the Griffintown neighborhood of Montreal. There is opposition from community groups who would prefer the site be used for social housing projects. Community groups have expressed to the city that they “want a real living environment, inclusive, affordable and ecological.” However, Bronfman insists that he does indeed plan to build a “green stadium” that would not only be good for the environment but the community as well.

Last Thursday, Bronfman and his associates met with the city consultants and proposed their plan for a stadium; it is one of over 40 proposals on how the site should be used. The city will wrap up these discussions soon with a plan for the site to be finalized by 2020. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred stated that the league does not require  them to “put shovels in the ground” yet, rather they need a concrete plan and the financing to assure that a team can move into the Montreal market. Although Manfred and the rest of the league office are eyeing multiple markets for a new team, such as San Antonio, Nashville, and Portland, Montreal is the most historic and capable city for a franchise at this point. Therefore, approval of the proposal is the next step into assuring the Expos can return. “If the city rejects the proposal, it would be a shame. It would send the signal that Montreal isn’t excited by the return of baseball,” Bronfman said.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred stated that the league does not require  them to “put shovels in the ground” yet, rather they need a concrete plan and the financing to assure that a team can move into the Montreal market.

While there is increasing hope for a potential Expos return in the near future, there still remain challenges. In today’s league, superstar players like Manny Machado and Bryce Harper are receiving multi-million dollar contracts, which could leave a Montreal franchise at a future disadvantage from attracting top-talent to come to their city over other larger markets. The city also needs to be certain it can withstand the social, environmental, and economic obstacles in building a stadium. Yet, baseball enthusiasts in Montreal are not discouraged from wanting to bring back their beloved franchise to their wonderful city. As Bronfman said to Montreal’s public consultation office, “the timing is perfect, the site is perfect, it’s time.”

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