How plans for a ballpark could change a Montreal neighbourhood
Teams aren't content with just building baseball stadiums anymore — they're creating entire districts
Stephen Bronfman was upbeat while talking to reporters earlier this week, giving his semi-regular update on how things are going in the push to bring baseball back to Montreal.
The next step, he said, is to officially secure a site where a new ballpark will be built.
The league has already made it clear there will be no baseball here without concrete plans for a new stadium, and Bronfman and his team have said they won't build a stadium without assurances Montreal is getting a team.
His group is looking at building the park in Pointe-Saint-Charles, on a federally owned, 8.5-hectare plot of land bordered very roughly by Bridge Street to the south, Mill Street to the east, the Peel Basin/Lachine Canal bike path to the north and the railway to the west.
Right now, the area is largely industrial. Bronfman and his team want to work with developer Devimco to create a mixed-use project in the area, "really incorporating the people of the Sud-Ouest, and really something that's open to all of Montreal."
"There's so much that goes on here in the summertime, with the festivals — Just For Laughs and Jazz — you know, a nice open rotunda where you have activities and stuff going on, it's going to be great."
The timeline for this project to come to life, if it ever does, is still up in the air. But the picture he painted — a space open to all, hosting activities that aren't baseball-related — is very on trend when it comes to how ballparks are being built these days.
And that means the neighbourhood may be in for a drastic change.
The Atlanta example
In an interview with The Associated Press two years ago, baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred heaped praise upon what was then a brand-new stadium: SunTrust Park, just outside Atlanta.
Built to replace a ballpark that was only 20 years old, the stadium is part of a mixed-use development that includes an entertainment district called the Battery Atlanta.
The Battery has become a source of revenue for both the Atlanta Braves, the team that owns the development, and Cobb County, where the park is located.
When it's done, the Battery will boast a number of restaurants and shops, apartment buildings, two hotels, office buildings, a movie theatre and more.
The stadium was built as a public-private partnership between the team and the county, which contributed about $400 million US to the cost of the ballpark; the entire development, including the Battery, is estimated to have cost $1.1 billion US.
The project wasn't without controversy — news the team was leaving Atlanta took fans by surprise, and last year, there was a dispute between the team and the county over public money the team said it was owed.
But when the stadium opened in 2017, Manfred said it was a "watershed" event for baseball.
"I think the scope of the mixed-use development surrounding the ballpark and the economic opportunity it has created for the club is what people see as revolutionary."
Dozens of sports teams have gone down to check out the area. William Jegher of Ernst & Young, who is part of the Montreal group lobbying for a team, has told other media they have visited too.
Across the league, teams are proposing and building mixed-use developments. They aren't content with just building ballparks anymore — they're creating entire neighbourhoods, anchored by stadiums.
But not everyone is interested in that kind of change.
A neighbourhood, overlooked
Developing that land isn't the only change on the horizon for eastern Pointe-Saint-Charles.
The new light rail project will run along the train tracks, and there will be a station in the area, though it's not known exactly where.
Bronfman said while his group wants to build a ballpark at the Peel Basin site, the plan is to develop it — with or without a stadium. Devimco built many of the buildings in Griffintown.
The plans for the site represent the natural progression of where Griffintown is and where it's going, Bronfman said.
But the site isn't in Griffintown — it's in Pointe-Saint-Charles, a neighbourhood some say is being left out of the process.
"The way they're talking about it, the expansion of Griffintown, the expansion of downtown, they're not even acknowledging that there is a local population living right next door in Pointe-Saint-Charles," said Cédric Glorioso-Deraiche, urban planning project manager for community group Action-Gardien.
"For us, that branding,...defining that area as the Peel Basin instead of the Pointe-Saint-Charles area, is a worrying thought."
Glorioso-Deraiche said it's hard to comment on the ballpark project, since the plans haven't been publicized.
But from what's known so far, it's not looking like it will respond to the needs of the community, he said.
The group is working on creating a broader plan for developing the area from the canal, south to Victoria Bridge and west toward the Champlain Bridge.
They call it the Bridge-Bonaventure area, and they are planning different events to consult the community and see how they want their neighbourhood to look.
Mayor Valérie Plante has said she wants to work with the promoters to make sure the project would take into account the needs and reality of the area.
Glorioso-Deraiche said the group has asked for a meeting with her to discuss those needs, but hasn't heard back yet.
He said the group would rather see the land become a site for housing built through the National Housing Strategy — federal land used to bring a federal initiative to fruition.
"There is a lot of private land all across the country, but public land is very limited. So in that respect, we think that [the land] must be used 100 per cent for collective projects that respond to community needs."