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Government and People
Cote-des-Neiges – Notre-Dame-de-Grace
Bureau des conseillers
Montreal (Quebec) H3X 2H9
November 22, 2004
Re : Relocation of Montreal Expos
Dear Ms. Cropp,
Montrealers feel that our city’s experience with Major League Baseball (MLB) these last years has been anything but edifying. There is a great deal of anger in our city regarding what fans – and Council members - believe was an undisguised and heartless effort from the day that MLB assumed direct control of the Montreal Expos to relocate the team.
MLB displayed little interest in working with us. I believe that you may find that MLB’s prime interest in Washington is for little more than securing an infusion of public money for a new stadium.
I realise Washington’s interests and Montreal’s may not be the same in this matter. However I urge the District of Columbia Council to exercise prudence when dealing with MLB. Washington’s first concern should be its taxpayers and it is far from clear that Washingtonians will be the ones that benefit from paying the entire price for the Expos relocation.
You will build the stadium and you may be paying for it far into the future. The team now owned by a consortium representing all the owners may at some future point be sold to a private owner. Given current valuations for MLB clubs, the franchise will be sold for an amount far greater than what the consortium paid to take control of the Expos from Jeffrey Loria some years back. At the very least, Washington, D.C., should it decide to proceed with stadium, might I suggest that your city demand a substantial share of the ownership of this team.
The new generation of baseball stadiums generally do heighten fan interest. However in most cases the novelty of the stadiums wears off after a few years and the core problems of baseball economics tend to resurface. The questions that D.C Council members should ask is how much will the new stadium that MLB insists that Washington build actually cost and will that investment augment attendance and economic activity to offset these costs.
This last point is significant. Most studies of the baseball stadiums built after 1978 find that none of them generated a net increase in tax revenue for the host city. Further D.C Council should recognize that public support for a stadium will mean – at least to some extent - reallocating resources impacting investment in police and fire protection, road repair, parks, culture, etc.
Stadium projects rarely seem to meet initial estimates. In Montreal our Olympic Stadium, built for the 1976 Summer Olympics, is widely recognised as an interesting piece of architecture. Unfortunately the project cost slightly more than $1 billion, more than double planners’ estimates. Montrealers only recently retired the debt on this stadium.
Our stadium experience is hardly unique. I think you will find that few new sports stadiums built in the past thirty years have been built for the initial estimated price.
The Montreal Expos have been a successful franchise. Most Montrealers believe the Expos can be a successful franchise again if MLB would create a sense of stability by indicating that the team has a long term future in Montreal. The team has a viable stadium in Montreal and MLB’s ending the instability could allow new owners to come forward.
That will only occur if Washington decides that if MLB wants to move the Expos, MLB should pay for the move. I believe that MLB , if faced with the possibility of paying all or part of the relocalization, will decide that perhaps keeping the team in Montreal is not so bad after all.
I think what you will find is that MLB’s honeyed words are only calculated to open the public purse. A dispassionate analysis should however convince D.C. Council that the magnitude of the expenditure and the accompanying tax breaks are really not is your interest. Washington should not accept the team unless Council is absolutely convinced that there is a real benefit to Washington. In other words, reason rather than euphoria should shape your ultimate decisions.
I am told that the stadium issue influenced the recent municipal election and that voters largely opted for candidates opposed to public financing of the stadium. I understand that the new Council takes office January 1. It would appear an important principle of democracy for the outgoing Council to respect the popular will and defer a final decision on the stadium until January 2005.
I would appreciate of you would share this letter with your Council colleagues.
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