Claude Rochon feels like an Olympic athlete entered in the 100 metres: Four years' training comes down to what seems to him like a few seconds.
"This process has taken almost two years, and now it comes down to 20 or 25 minutes to do our presentation," said Rochon, an Alouettes vice-president (marketing and communications). "We've been told to be brief."
Public consultations begin tonight at 7 p.m. on the Als' proposal to increase seating at Molson Stadium - the CFL's smallest venue - by 5,000, bringing capacity to 25,202. The team hopes to build a second tier on the south side stands in time for the 2007 season. The extra seats would increase the team's annual revenue by an estimated $2.5 million.
Without it, Rochon doubts Montreal will have a CFL team by 2011.
"It's very simple. Our organization is at risk," he said.
The Als estimate it will cost $27 million to complete the project. They've asked for $23 million from the three levels of government - city, provincial and federal - with the remaining $4 million from private funding. The organization received $12 million in government assistance three years ago. That money was used to modify the structure.
The city of Montreal has conditionally endorsed this latest phase of the project through its executive committee. But city council voted last month to consult the public on the proposal.
"I was told to be prepared for anything," said Rochon, who will be accompanied by Als president Larry Smith and vice-president (operations and events) Mark Weightman. Also present will be Morty Yalovski, McGill's vice-principal (administration and finance). The university owns the facility.
Any Montreal citizen can attend tonight's session.
Rochon said 1,730 people live within a two-block radius. He expects representatives from Les Amis de la Montagne and Heritage Montreal will be present. Environmentalists are concerned that 68 trees will be removed, while the second tier would obstruct a portion of the skyline. The Als plan to rehabilitate the area, replacing trees, plants or shrubs.
A public forum will be held between June 13 and 15. The possibility exists of a referendum if 10 per cent of the residents of the surrounding area are opposed and sign a register. However, any referendum or blockage of the project could be overturned by a vote of city council.
"The city can decide to pull away or change things based on the opinion of the public," Rochon said. "You can't be sour. That's the price of democracy. That's the way the rules are made.
"People are preoccupied by environmental issues. Cutting a tree in society today is a difficult task. But I think we've done our homework and taken everything into account.
"We're playing for a tie. We won't win against certain opinions."
Everyone, from owner Robert Wetenhall to Smith and now Rochon, emphasized the Als' future hinges on the project being completed. Hosting the Grey Cup game in 2008 is worth at least $2 million to Wetenhall, but the organization can't remain viable without the additional seating.
Playing fulltime at Olympic Stadium isn't an option, he added, since 25 per cent of the team's 17,400 season subscribers don't purchase tickets when the Als play there once or twice each season. And the construction of a new facility, priced between $75 million and $100 million, isn't feasible, Rochon said.
What it seems to boil down to is that they will have to remove 68 trees to continue the expantion. The Als have promised to replace them all and more but the tree huggers are not happy
Can you believe it!