Molson gets a makeover

Molson gets a makeover McGill University

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McGill Reporter
October 11, 2001 - Volume 34 Number 03
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Molson gets a makeover

McGill's venerable Percival Molson Memorial Stadium will be receiving a great big facelift over the next few years.

PHOTO: Michel Gravel

At a press conference attended by Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Luc Vinet, Montreal mayor Pierre Bourque and Montreal Alouettes president Larry Smith, it was announced that $12.5 million will be spent on sprucing up the stadium, which hasn't undergone a major overhaul since the 1976 Olympics. The stadium was prettied up back then in order to play host to the field hockey events during the Montreal Games.

It was also announced that the Alouettes and McGill have signed a deal that will see the team continue to use the McGill stadium as its home base for another 10 years.

The city will provide $4 million for the renovations, while the Alouettes have pledged to kick in $500,000. The remaining $8 million is expected to come from the provincial and federal governments through the Programme des travaux d'infrastructures Canada-Québec.

"Molson Stadium will recapture its former glory as an important and exciting meeting place in the heart of the city," Vinet declared at the press conference. But some would argue that the stadium has already become just that over the last four years.

In 1997, the Alouettes were forced to look for another venue for a playoff game when the Olympic Stadium, their home at the time, was already booked with a U2 concert for the same date. The Alouettes played the game at Molson and something unexpected happened. Everybody had a glorious time.

While Molson Stadium was rundown and dingy, the team and its fans discovered that it had a lot in its favour. Situated on Mount Royal, it was a hop-skip away from the downtown core and offered a lovely view of the city's skyline and a much cozier atmosphere than the sterile, largely unloved Big O.

The Alouettes stayed and have gone on to sell out their last 26 home games in a row. They attract about twice as many fans at Molson as they did when they were playing at the Olympic Stadium.

Still, Alouettes owner Robert Wetenhall called Molson "the worst stadium in North America for football."

Director of Athletics Robert Dubeau probably wouldn't go that far, but he agrees that the stadium requires some major renovations.

"We've known that the stadium needed quite a bit of work done, but the athletics department couldn't afford to do it. The University recognized that this was an important project, but there were a lot of items on its priority list that also had to be dealt with."

Thanks to this new funding, McGill can start attending to the stadium's needs. But the money doesn't come without strings. City officials have asked for more access to the stadium for Montrealers.

Dubeau says that McGill has agreed to give the city 175 hours of stadium use each year, mostly between the months of April and August. He expects that the city will use the stadium for football, soccer and rugby matches and other events.

The deal shouldn't affect the McGill sports teams that use the stadium for games, practices or competitions. And it shouldn't get in the way of the athletics department's popular summer sports camp for children.

"Clearly, we would like to have 100 per cent of the stadium for ourselves and our programs, but for $4 million, you have to give up something in return," says Dubeau. "I think this is going to be fairly easy to manage. Once September comes along and we enter our busiest per-iod, there are very few hours available to the city."

Since returning to Molson -- the Alouettes first called the stadium home between 1947 and 1967 -- the Alouettes have been using the facility rent-free. Over that time, though, they have invested over a million dollars in fixing up the stadium.

The new renovations, scheduled to begin next year and to be completed in time for the beginning of the 2003 Canadian Football League season, will involve the construction of new seating. The facility, which currently seats about 19,500, will be able to accommodate a crowd of 24,000.

Although the Alouettes are doing much better than they were before they moved back to Molson, the team is still losing money. Being able to seat more fans ought to put the Alouettes in the black. "This is a critical element, to be very blunt," said Smith.

New locker rooms and washrooms will be built, the concession stands will be overhauled, and lighting and the public address system will be improved.

At the city's request, a staircase and pathway will be constructed, linking the stadium to the top of Mount Royal. A new access road to the stadium will also be built.

The stadium's 13-year-old Astroturf playing surface will be replaced. The life expectancy of such a surface is about 13 years, says Dubeau, and while Molson's Astroturf is still in decent shape, it has, at most, another year before it begins to deteriorate, he estimates.

Dubeau also hopes to replace the stadium's 25-year-old running track.

Once the renovations are done, Dubeau believes McGill will be in a position to host major events. He suggests that the stadium could be a site for World Cup soccer qualifying matches or for Montreal Symphony Orchestra concerts under the stars.

The stadium has had a long and colourful past. Apart from the Olym-pics and the Alouettes, Molson has played host to everything from a royal visit from Princess Elizabeth in 1951 to a concert by Sting and the Police in the late '80s.

It is named after Percival Molson, a one-time member of McGill's board of governors and an accomplished athlete in his day. As a 16-year-old, Molson helped the Montreal Victorias win the Stanley Cup in 1896. In 1900, the McGill athletic star set a world record in the long jump. He had a reputation for honesty that today's athletes might scorn. In one case, he talked a referee out of penalizing an opposition player for checking him during a hockey game -- Molson insisted it was a clean hit.

When he died during World War I, Molson bequeathed McGill $75,000 towards the construction of a football stadium. The stadium had already been built, but was modified and improved with Molson's funds and re-christened in his honour.

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