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The Rays have cleared one Montreal hurdle, but many more remain

The ownership group seeking to bring major-league baseball back to Montreal says it is on board with Stu Sternberg’s plan to share the Rays.
Pierre Boivin, left, and Stephen Bronfman speak at a news conference at the Clairidge Inc. office in Montreal on Wednesday, June 26, 2019. Bronfman spoke about exploring the prospect of the Tampa Bay Rays playing half their future home games each season in Montreal. [MARIO BEAUREGARD   |   LE JOURNAL DE MONTREAL]
Pierre Boivin, left, and Stephen Bronfman speak at a news conference at the Clairidge Inc. office in Montreal on Wednesday, June 26, 2019. Bronfman spoke about exploring the prospect of the Tampa Bay Rays playing half their future home games each season in Montreal. [MARIO BEAUREGARD | LE JOURNAL DE MONTREAL]
Published Jun. 26, 2019
Updated Jun. 27, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — It looks like the Rays have a partner for their dual-city plan.

They still don’t have stadiums. Or financing plans. Or even permission to talk about stadiums and financing plans, but they do have a partnership group in Montreal.

Stephen Bronfman, son of the former owner of the Montreal Expos and one of the leaders trying to bring baseball back to the Quebec province, said Wednesday that he was willing to buy a share of the Rays and, more importantly, buy into the idea of a team playing in two cities.

“People just want to see baseball, and people are adaptable,” Bronfman said during a news conference in Montreal. “I think it’s a great chance to have summer baseball in Montreal. And to do it with great professionals and true partners I think is really exciting. It’s groundbreaking.”

Related: MORE RAYS: How to get Tampa Bay fans to buy into Stu Sternberg's plan

So people in Montreal will accept a part-time team?

“It’s a full-time team; it just plays in two places.”

For the most part, Bronfman stuck to the same script that Rays owner Stu Sternberg used in Tuesday’s news conference in St. Petersburg.

And the pitch in Montreal is similar:

An imperfect baseball market could build an open-air stadium — saving hundreds of millions in costs for a roof — and play a part-time schedule that would lessen the pressure to draw 2 million fans annually.

In Tampa Bay, the team would play in April and May before the weather gets too hot and summer thunderstorms become a problem. In Montreal, the team would play during pleasant summer months.

“There are risks with anything interesting and anything innovative,” Bronfman said. “I think having two scenarios and having two different partners and two different cities, I think you also have some less risk because you’re derisking a project. And that may be comforting to Major League Baseball.”

The Bronfman group’s participation solves a larger piece of the puzzle, but there are still significant obstacles that must be overcome.

The first involves getting permission from St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and the City Council before the Rays can even begin talking about a new stadium in Montreal. Kriseman initially said he would not entertain the notion of the Rays playing part time in St. Petersburg while they still have a lease at Tropicana Field but said Tuesday that he is willing to talk to team officials.

Bronfman’s group has looked into acquiring land in downtown Montreal, and the region has commissioned a stadium study. But it’s also clear the group is not going to build a stadium until a team is guaranteed to arrive. That means the Rays have to get permission to negotiate, then simultaneously come to terms on stadium deals in Montreal and Tampa Bay.

“We’re not going to start building a stadium until we have a definite plan, a definite agreement and definite approval by the league, if we get there,” said Pierre Boivin, a former Montreal Canadiens executive who is part of Bronfman’s group.

Stephen Bronfman speaks at a news conference at the Clairidge Inc office in Montreal on Wednesday. Bronfman spoke about exploring the prospect of the Rays playing some future home games in Montreal. (MARIO BEAUREGARD/LE JOURNAL DE MONTREAL)

And, like Tampa Bay, it could be difficult to convince political leaders to invest in the stadium project for a part-time team with public funds. Bronfman said they have already been in contact with city and province officials but have not yet determined the split of funds. Montreal has been without a big-league team since the Expos left after the 2004 season for Washington.

Bronfman, a real estate developer, also suggested he might get involved in the building of a stadium in Tampa Bay if he becomes a member of the Rays ownership group. Rays officials say they have not yet gotten to the point of discussing specific stadium financing or development plans.

“We’re not sure what the splits are going to be and what the partnerships will look like,” Bronfman said. “If our group is buying into the Tampa project, we’ll be involved in the Tampa buildout as well.

“So I think there’s going to be a lot of private money, and often there is a need for public assistance. We don’t know at what level.”

So the big boys are on board in both cities.

Related: MORE RAYS: Time for an adult conversation about whether Tampa Bay still wants the MLB

Less certain is whether the average fan is going to buy into the idea of a team that plays half its schedule more than 1,000 miles away.

“I’m really hoping people embrace this notion of baseball back in Montreal,” Bronfman said. “It’s taking a different face. It’s got a more modern look to it.”

And will it be difficult for fans to love a team they have to share?

“I hope not,” he said.

Contact John Romano at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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