- The Washington Times - Friday, August 4, 2000

Montreal Expos controlling owner Jeffrey Loria is poised to buy out Quebec investors in the financially troubled club after months of bitter negotiations a move that would free him to pursue its relocation.
Minority owner Paul Roberge told a Montreal French-language TV station late Wednesday a deal to give Loria total control of the Expos, rumored for weeks, is set and will be consummated within 10 days.
Loria, a New York art dealer, has spoken publicly of a desire to keep the team in Montreal if possible, but he has failed in attempts to start work on a new downtown stadium and secure local TV and radio contracts. Team attendance, while up considerably over last year, remains the lowest in baseball.
"For sure, we would have liked to see this end differently," said Roberge, president of the Quebec-based Boutiques San Francisco clothing company, in a television interview. "But we still hope Mr. Loria will be able to keep the Expos in Montreal for many years to come."
Loria was not available for comment Thursday. A spokesman for the 43-year-old owner contradicted Roberge's statement, saying a deal to transfer the locally held shares to Loria has not been struck, but he acknowledged talks have been heading in that direction for weeks.
"We are still waiting for the end of negotiations," said Andre Bouthillier, a Montreal-based spokesman representing Loria. "They are still not done. We'll know a lot more when they are."
Two groups in the Washington area seeking to relocate a major league team have been watching the Expos' situation, and representatives said eliminating the Quebec investors improves the prospect of a move. Commissioner Bud Selig has softened his earlier stance against franchise relocations, and a recent economic report studying Major League Baseball also recommended moves for deeply troubled franchises.
"This development makes it a lot easier since there's now just one person to deal with assuming they get approval to move," said Mike Scanlon, spokesman for telecommunications executive William Collins, who heads a group that seeks to bring a team to Northern Virginia.
Financial executive Fred Malek leads a competing group that wants a team to relocate to the District of Columbia.
The sale of the Quebec-held shares ends a divisive financial dispute between the two sides. Loria, who last year paid only $18 million for a 24 percent stake in the team, asked the minority investors in May to supply more than $30 million toward a new stadium and rising payroll. The Quebec investors, decidedly unconvinced Loria's plans could generate a profit, balked. But the partnership agreement allowed Loria to dilute their shares if his cash call was denied.
"We worked to keep the Expos in Montreal. Sadly, I think a little trick was played on us," Roberge told television station LCN.
Officials for MLB, which must approve any transfer of equity, declined to comment except to say the Expos situation is being closely monitored.
Major hurdles remain for Loria when the equity transfer is done, regardless of where the team plays. If he stays in Montreal, he must find ways to inject cash into the team in an area where he has alienated thousands of fans and much of the local corporate community. If he seeks to leave town, he must convince baseball to let him move before another owner like Minnesota's Carl Pohlad, who has lost far more money over a much longer period.

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