Sports  Molson Stadium expansion goes forward

Plans draw ire from local residents

The second phase of the $29-million expansion of the Percival Molson Stadium is underway and is expected to be completed by late May or early June, in time for the 2010 fall football season. The expansion will add 5,000 new seats and a new screen to the stadium, which hosts the McGill Redmen and the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes, who won the league’s Grey Cup in 2009.

The expansion increases the size of what will remain the CFL’s smallest home stadium.

Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson outlined the project as a cooperation with the local community and Montreal. “The City obviously sees this as an important project, so by enabling renovations, we are making it possible for the Alouettes to have a home in downtown Montreal. We are able to serve the community in terms of supporting the city’s team,” Mendelson said, adding that the broadcasts of Alouettes home games prominently feature the McGill logo.

In past years the expansion has drawn criticism from local residents because of increased noise and foot traffic in the neighbouring Milton-Parc community. In 2006, residents petitioned to hold a referendum on the expansion, but failed to gather enough signatures to move the referendum forward.

 Lucia Kowaluk, of the Milton-Parc Citizens’ Committee and a resident of Jeanne-Mance, said that the petition failed due to excessive constraints on voter eligibility and an unreasonably small voting district. She was encouraged, however, by recent strategies to cope with the crowds. “The police have been very cooperative this fall, and so far it’s working,” she said, referring to efforts to construct barricades that divert fans toward Parc and away from the community adjacent to the stadium.

The stadium’s expansion will add another tier of seats to the south stands along Pins and overlooking Aylmer, Durocher, and Hutchison. One hundred and sixty-eight new trees will be planted in an effort to reduce the visual impact of the stadium and its new giant screen, which would otherwise be seen from the Parc side of the stadium.

 Virginia Nixon, another committee member and neighbourhood resident, was concerned about the effects of the additional tier. “Any additional blocking of the view of the mountain is completely unacceptable,” she said. “At present the football games are not a problem at all. I like the cheering, but I’m concerned about additional noise.”

The $29-million price tag is being funded to the effect of $19 million by the Quebec provincial government, with the remaining $10 million coming from the municipal government and Alouettes owner Bob Wetenhall. Compounded with 2003’s initial $13-million investment, total expansion costs have reached $42 million.

The Alouettes, who are managing the construction, have hired the contracting firm EBC Inc. The team has made it clear that it is the contractors’ duty to negotiate with the University regarding compensation should the construction get behind schedule. “The Alouettes are responsible for the construction, and the contractor will have the financial responsibilities,” added Olivier Poulin, a spokesperson for the team.

This past fall McGill students took their final exams in the downtown Sheraton hotel rather than at the gymnasium because of the construction. They are expected to do so again in the spring.

The expansion follows the signing of a new lease which will keep the Alouettes playing at McGill for the next 20 years. Both the Alouettes management and the McGill administration declined to comment as to the terms of the new lease.