Hanes: We can’t afford to play Moneyball

The Olympic Stadium and the Videotron Center have not taught us anything?

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Remember when taxpayers paid most of the bill for a brand-new $ 400 million stadium in an attempt to attract a National Hockey League team to Quebec City?

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The Videotron Center opened in 2015 and there is still no sign of a new franchise.

It has become a common joke. Former Quebec City mayor Régis Labeaume, whose municipality contributed $ 187 million to the 18,000-seat installation, once joked that, well, at least it was a great place for public skating.

The “Big Owe” is another well-worn auction. Millions of dollars in public money have been poured into the money well of a Montreal Olympic Stadium for decades. However, it has been empty, for the most part, since the city’s beloved Expos moved to Washington, DC, for the start of the 2005 season.

But the joke will be on the people of Montréal if we shell out public money to build a new ballpark to bring back half of a team, if we can. Yet that’s what businessman Stephen Bronfman, CEO of Claridge Investment, hopes.

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Bronfman leads a group trying to bring Major League Baseball back to Montreal. It includes large corporate companies such as Mitch Garber, Alain Bouchard, Eric Boyko, and Stephan Crétier. But the best-case scenario right now is that Montreal shares the Tampa Bay Rays with Florida. To have the slightest chance of securing even a part-time baseball team, they need a new stadium, which would cost about $ 1 billion . The Big O is still a no-go.

Bronfman has his eyes set on federal lands in the Peel Basin for the location. Wait for the Quebec government to act hundreds of millions of dollars for construction – although through various accounting gymnastics, this would be canceled as if it cost taxpayers nothing. And seek the support of the city.

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Basically, the return of baseball needs the hand of all levels of government.

After a meeting with Mayor Valérie Plante earlier this week, Bronfman declared himself “optimistic.” Plante herself said she needs more information and transparency. Campaigning for the 2017 election, he suggested a referendum on whether Montréal wants to invest in a baseball team. As mayor, she has been enthusiastic about the idea, if only to show that she can play well with the business community.

Legault is a sports fan. He has just created a committee of experts to help drive hockey participation with the dream of one day filling the Habs list with Quebecers. But with the opposition yelling foul, he’s under pressure to say no to baseball. In the National Assembly, he promised that Quebec taxpayers would not spend a penny on a stadium.

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But this leaves room for the kind of “no-cost” financing that Bronfman is pushing. Basically it would mean facing up to $ 300 million and considering the money “Reimbursed” through economic benefits construction, income tax paid by part-time players, and all sales tax levied on tourists who came to watch the games.

Additionally, Bronfman says the new stadium will include a community center, green space and space for a sports hall of fame. It all sounds … too good to be true.

Before we’re duped by this win-win sales pitch and overwhelmed by nostalgia for the Expos, Montréal need a reality check. We would still be contributing a lot of money to a new stadium and there is no guarantee that Montreal will get a team at the end of the day, not even half a team. It is an exaggeration to say that it would cost taxpayers nothing. And how long would it take to get the public funds back if the team only plays here part-time, if the players only pay income taxes for a fraction of the season, or if they never come?

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The baseball group cannot be blamed for trying to pressure the government for their pet project. The precedent of a love affair was set with the Videotron Center. And there will be no team without a new stadium.

But these are all smart and successful businessmen who have built profitable corporations from the ground up. They surely have the skills, the experience and the cash to secure private sector financing and pave the way for MLB’s triumphant return to Montreal. The fact that they seem to be so relying on Quebec taxpayers to bear the cost should perhaps tell us something.

It’s not that having baseball in Montreal isn’t pleasant. But amid all the other public spending priorities – expanding transit, fighting climate change, repairing dilapidated schools, creating more affordable housing, to name a few – we can’t afford to play Moneyball.

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Reference-montrealgazette.com

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