It’s still just a vision, but after 14 years a detailed plan is now in place for Missoula County’s end of the Fort Missoula Regional Park.
All that stands in the way of a new complex of lighted softball fields, trails, playgrounds, sheltered picnic areas, and a dog pond and park at Fort Missoula is the $16.1 million question of how to pay for it all.
Commissioners on Wednesday gave a 3-0 stamp of approval for the county’s end of the Fort Missoula Regional Park refined master site plan.
They liked the idea, they said, that the site can be developed and funded in stages.
The park will be on the 63 acres now occupied mostly by aging playing fields, cratered parking lots, and decrepit restroom and concession facilities between South Avenue and Old Fort Road. Part of it is contiguous to the city’s 100 acres designated for the regional park. The Missoula City Council adopted a master site plan four years ago.
After seven months of public vetting, the county plan received appreciative thumbs-up Wednesday from representatives of the Missoula Softball Association, the Missoula Christian Softball Association and the director of the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula.
The latter, Bob Brown, thanked county parks and trails manager Lisa Moisey and consultant DHM Design for keeping in mind the Fort Missoula Historic District, which encompasses the regional park.
“To me this is just such a good idea, just a healthy thing to create and have people benefit from, that sooner or later we’ll figure out how to finance it,” commission chairman Bill Carey said.
The county park can be developed area by area – nine in all, and in no particular sequence, said Bill Neumann of DHM Design, which contracted with the county to complete a more specific master plan to one first approved in conjunction with the city in 2002.
The highest ticket item is a $7.8 million “five-plex” of lighted, tournament-ready softball fields and a maintenance building, with concessions and restrooms under one roof in the middle. Two will be “championship” fields with intercom systems, Neumann said.
Two more softball fields on the south side of the park won’t be lighted, but they’ll bring to seven the number of 300-foot fenced fields with warning tracks. Their price tag is estimated at $1.28 million.
There are four landscaped parking lots in the plan, three of them accessed off South Avenue and capable of handling 540 vehicles. The four are expected to cost roughly $2.6 million.
Perhaps the most distinguishing feature will be the $511,000, three-acre dog park, complete with a pond for Fifi and Fido to splash in.
“It’s the only part of this whole thing that gives me any heartburn,” said Commissioner Michele Landquist, citing liability and sanitation concerns.
The 163-acre regional park has been in the works since the city acquired its 100 acres to the west of the county’s park in 1998. It’s expected to grow another 86 acres in the near future when the Knife River site to the southwest is annexed. That site contains two ponds and Bitterroot River access.
Moisey said now that there’s an approved plan, the county is in a better position to apply for grants to help pay for the improvements.
“In terms of a comprehensive, aggressive funding project, we don’t have anything in place,” she said.
“The plan is first, know what you’re going to put out there, and then go to work and build support,” Carey said.
“It’s been about 15 years since we issued bonds for the detention facility, and I think it’s got another five years to go, but nobody has really sat down and said, OK, what are the funding options here?” he said.
“I think people assume we’re going to do some sort of issuance of bonds, but I’m not sure about that because I haven’t talked to anybody about it.”
Commissioners on Wednesday also unanimously approved the creation of an industrial tax increment financing district at the Bonner mill site. It was the required second hearing on the issue. The first came two weeks earlier, when they also amended the county growth policy to make such TIFs legal.
Unlike the earlier meeting, no one spoke in opposition to the district, which sets aside property taxes for purposes of development at the former Stimson Lumber Co. site. It’s now owned by two local men, Michael Boehm and Steve Nelson, and their company, Bonner Property Development.
Counties usually establish regulations by resolution, but in this case, by state law, commissioners adopted an ordinance, explained Janet Cornish, a consultant on the project. That means it won’t go into effect for 30 days, just beating the deadline to establish 2012 as the base for the increment district and to reap the benefits of improvements performed this year.
Reporter Kim Briggeman can be reached at 523-5266 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.