Montreal Alouettes

Percival Molson Stadium

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excerpted - Montreal's downtown CFL stadium a success - Drew Edwards - The Hamilton Spectator 22-07-2010

In the long list of rock star Bono's philanthropic contributions, you could add "saved the Montreal Alouettes."

It was a scheduling conflict between a U2 concert and an Alouettes playoff game in November 1997 that forced the football club to surrender its Olympic Stadium home and move to the cosy, if weathered, confines of Percival Molson Stadium on the campus of McGill University.

 

Just how run-down was it? Workers had to cut down a tree that was poking through the stands and obstructing sightlines.

"It was in pretty dilapidated condition, but we realized it was an opportunity, that our fans liked being there," president Larry Smith recalled yesterday. "More than 400 people wrote us letters saying that, if we continued to play at Molson Stadium, they'd renew their subscriptions -- and we only had 1,800 season ticket holders our first years."

 

The new stadium experience -- not to mention a consistently competitive team -- is credited with helping revitalize a Montreal franchise that was struggling in the cavernous, 60,000-seat Olympic Stadium. The team has a 20-year lease deal with McGill University, located on the northern edge of the city's vibrant core.

 

"The Olympic Stadium was in the east end of Montreal, which is not a neighbourhood that has a lot of restaurants and places that would attract people. It was out of the downtown core, which is where all the action occurs in Montreal," Smith said. "It's important for us in that the downtown supplies all the dynamics to make an interesting and entertaining experience."

But being in an intensely urban area has its drawbacks, he says.

 

"The stadium is very difficult to get to, but we have a deal with the bus service to take up to 8,000 people a game by closing off a lane -- there's very limited parking around the stadium," he said.

 

"From an operational standpoint, it has some limitations. But it is so intimate and the sightlines are like Ivor Wynne -- you are right on top of the game."

 

Like Hamilton's Bob Young, Alouettes owner Bob Wetenhall has consistently lost money during an ownership tenure that began in 1997, Smith says. Estimates put that figure at $10 million.

 

"Bob Wetenhall looks at this as an opportunity to break even and maybe make a few bucks," Smith said.

 

"Will he recoup the amount of money that he's put into the franchise? No. But if owners can see an opportunity to break even, they usually stick -- it's when they see that the hole is only going to get deeper that owners get tired and leave."

 

The facility was built in 1919 with money from the estate of Percival Molson, who was killed in France during the First World War.

 

Since the Alouettes moved in, the stadium has undergone two major renovations. The first was completed in 2004 and targeted existing infrastructure. The $8.5-million cost was split between the federal and provincial governments, with a $500,000 contribution from Wetenhall.

 

The second, recently completed renovation added a second deck to the south stands and 19 luxury boxes -- a net gain of 5,000 seats that raises capacity to 25,012. It cost $29.4 million, with the province picking up $19.3 million, Wetenhall $6 million and the city $4 million.

 

The Alouettes will play their first regular-season game in the revamped park tonight against the Ticats.

 

"It took us 11 years to get the whole thing done, but it's well worth it if you see what there is today," Smith said.