The next Formula E races in Montreal would have been more successful, organizer says

The head of the group that organized Montreal's Formula E race is standing by its work, saying the event was a success and would have only improved had they had the chance to continue.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante announced Monday the city's intention to cancel the race

(Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

The head of the group that organized Montreal's Formula E race is standing by its work, saying the event was a success and would have only improved had they had the chance to continue.

Simon Pillarella, general manager of the non-profit group called Montreal it's electric, said he learned of Mayor Valérie Plante's decision to cancel the race on Monday, only hours before it was announced publicly.

He said there were options other than nixing the race altogether, but it wasn't the group's choice to make.

"At the end of the day, the new mayor decided that it was in the best interest of the city to cancel this event, and we respect this decision," he told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

Pillarella said the Coderre administration, which did most of the work in luring the race to Montreal, promised his organization $11.5 million in funding from different levels of government, but only delivered $3.4 million.

He said they generated their own commercial revenue, but the lack of promised funding means their deficit is higher than anticipated.

"It was a first try. Of course we would have done better in the second and third year, but we won't have the chance to prove that."
Mayor Valérie Plante made good on an election campaign promise by announcing that Montreal has cancelled the Formula E race. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Plante cancelled the race after learning taxpayers would be expected to shell out up to $35 million for the second edition of the race in 2018.

​She called the event a "financial fiasco" waiting to happen, adding that the non-profit organization behind the race owes creditors $6.2 million for unpaid bills and is $9.5 million into its line of credit.

These cost overruns are all on top of the city's commitment of $24 million over six years.

Transparency issues

Some believe the lack of transparency surrounding the event played a role in Denis Coderre's election night defeat.

When asked about transparency issues, Pillarella said the city was "very involved."

"They had their way of doing things. They didn't want to disclose some of the information and it was their choice to do so," he said, adding that their complete financial report will come out in January following an audit.

Fred Cormier, the owner of Station, says he lost business because he had to remove his outdoor patio for the Formula E. (Sudha Krishnan/CBC)

Montreal it's electric was created a week before the race began and didn't negotiate the contracts —Coderre's administration did, Pillarella said.

He pointed to two events held after the race, a season-ending gala and a networking event, as an example of how that played out.

They were contractually obligated to hold those events, which cost in the neighbourhood of $1.2 million.

He said his group would have tried to renegotiate the contract to avoid that expense for the next two races, which were scheduled for 2018 and 2019.

The cost to cancel the race will likely be in the seven-figure range at least, Pillarella said, but he wouldn't give a specific number.

Good intentions, bad planning

At least one business owner who was affected by the race last time around isn't shedding any tears.

"It's really good news, as a citizen and a business owner," said Fred Cormier, owner of Station microbrewery on Ontario Street. "We know we won't have any trouble next summer."

Cormier said he lost thousands of dollars in revenue last summer when the city told him he had to dismantle his terrasse weeks ahead of the race.

He also said he suffered from a lack of foot and vehicle traffic as the city temporarily removed parking and cut bus service along Ontario Street.

Michel Leblanc, president of the Montreal Chamber of Commerce, said choosing to hold the race in the heart of the Ville-Marie borough may have contributed to the event's downfall.

On top of the millions accrued in debt, area residents complained that the city wasn't offering enough information and numbers released just before the Nov. 5 municipal election showed that attendance figures had been grossly inflated by freebies.

Michel Leblanc, president of the Montreal Chamber of Commerce, said he hopes the private and public funding secured for the race could be diverted to other projects. (Radio-Canada)

"Maybe there's a lesson to take away. We did the Formula E for good reasons, but we did it in the wrong location," said Leblanc.

"The public support was not there."

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak, Navneet Pall, Radio-Canada


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