Mountain Baseball has paid all its $120,000 annual lease payment for Missoula’s riverfront stadium, but Friends of the Civic Stadium has not paid any money toward maintenance, according to the Missoula Redevelopment Agency.
Mountain Baseball owns the Missoula Osprey Pioneer League baseball team, and it’s slated to pay the $120,000 rent on Ogren Park at Allegiance Field for 25 years. The payments will go to pay off $1.55 million in revenue bonds that were part of the city’s controversial contribution to the ballpark.
“They do four payments over the summer because that’s when their revenue is coming in,” MRA Director Ellen Buchanan said this week of Mountain Baseball.
Friends of the Civic Stadium, on the other hand, has not raised any of the $25,000 yearly payments its agreement with the city of Missoula required starting in January 2012, but the group anticipates an upcoming event will bring in funds, Buchanan said. Friends of the Civic Stadium is the nonprofit that formed to raise money for stadium upkeep after Play Ball Missoula went dark.
“We’re looking at something in Caras Park in all likelihood that probably involves music and beer,” Buchanan said. “It seems to be a pretty successful combination.”
The money will go toward an account for “non-routine items of repair and replacement,” according to the contract with the city. If that fundraiser doesn’t bring in enough money, Friends board chairwoman Mae Nan Ellingson said the group will seek another way to raise the $25,000.
“Then, we’re going to look at other options for sure because we feel we made that commitment to the city, and we’ve got to honor it,” Ellingson said.
Play Ball Missoula was a nonprofit that raised some $6 million to build the ballpark, and the stadium opened in 2004. But a prolonged lawsuit, skyrocketing building costs and an economic crash meant building the stadium cost more than expected, and the nonprofit found itself drowning in $7.3 million of principal and accrued interest.
When Play Ball couldn’t pull in enough revenue or collect enough pledges to pay its loans, a finance team worked out a complicated set of transactions to clear the debt, prevent foreclosure on the stadium, and transfer the ballpark free and clear to the city of Missoula.
“The city owns a great asset now, and we have a good operator in there in Mountain Baseball, and they’re doing their best to operate the stadium the way it was always intended to be operated,” as a community center, Buchanan said.
As part of the finance deal, Mountain Baseball’s annual lease for the stadium went from $30,000 a year to $120,000 year, she said. Buchanan estimates it’s the highest lease payment in the league.
Another outcome is the contract between Friends and the city of Missoula. It notes the group formed to put $250,000 into a “replacement and depreciation account,” and Buchanan said the funds will pay for “big ticket” items that will be needed a decade or so from now, such as a new roof some 15 years down the road.
“The city acknowledges that Friends anticipates raising a minimum of $25,000 each year for a period of 10 years,” reads part of the agreement signed in February 2012. “Failure to raise the full $25,000 in any year shall not constitute a breach of this agreement.”
Rather, the nonprofit will continue trying to raise money, and it will disband once it raises the full $250,000, according to the contract. Last fall, Friends held a brewfest, but the weather killed attendance, and the event was not successful, Buchanan said.
“These people are well intentioned, and the first attempt was not successful, but we all have our little failures,” Buchanan said. “And we think the second one will be extremely successful.”
Missoula City Council president Marilyn Marler believes the group will raise the money, but she said doing so isn’t easy. She said she has much respect for many board members and hopes they will keep in touch with the council if they run into problems.
“I just think it’s a really hard thing to fundraise for,” Marler said. “We have so many good causes in town, and a maintenance fund for the civic stadium, it’s a hard thing.”
The current lack of funds doesn’t create a pressing problem right now, said Councilman Bob Jaffe, but it’s a matter of credibility. After all the work that went into the agreements, he said he hopes the group will stick with it, and he’s optimistic about “Plan B” despite the outcome of the first fundraiser.
“It’s not a good sign, but probably they’ll come through,” said Jaffe, whose ward includes the ballpark.
Friends’ chairwoman Ellingson confirmed beer and music would be on tap for the second event, and she said Mayor John Engen was helping to coordinate it. A lot of work went into the first event, but it didn’t draw the crowds, she said.
“Everybody was just sick about that, after all the effort, that it just didn’t raise enough money,” said Ellingson, who was on the finance team that worked out the deal to prevent stadium foreclosure.
According to Ginny Merriam, communications director for the city, the mayor said the date is tentatively set for April 19.
“It will be in Caras Park and is modeled after brewfests the park is famous for,” Merriam said in an email.
This summer, the city will be working to punch Wyoming Avenue through to Cregg Lane, and the MRA’s Buchanan said she does not anticipate construction will hurt baseball revenue. The city worked hard to ensure all the work that affects access to the stadium will be complete well before the first home game, she said.
And she said many events besides ball games will take place there this summer, such as concerts and possibly some of the International Choral Festival.