No money raised for long-term maintenance of Missoula stadium

2013-03-22T06:00:00Z 2013-03-22T12:02:12Z No money raised for long-term maintenance of Missoula stadium missoulian.com

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.

Reach Keila Szpaller at @keilaszpaller, at keila.szpaller@missoulian.com or at (406) 523-5262.

Copyright 2015 missoulian.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(16) Comments

  1. MTminded
    Report Abuse
    MTminded - March 23, 2013 8:18 am
    Thank you for your patronage, and I sincerely hope you can continue to return to enjoy our fair city and its many attractions. As this story points out, however, it is not your (and others) visitation to the stadium that keeps it maintained. And those responsible for funding the stadiums maintenance are not living up to their end of the "bargain".

    I have not seen the contract between stadium management and the Osprey baseball club but imagine a well maintained stadium is a stipulation to the Osprey continuing to use this facility. If we lose the Osprey the taxpayers will no doubt be asked to shell out even more money to not only maintain the stadium but to lure in a replacement baseball team. The stadium continues to be a poorly organized venture that probably should never have come to fruition.
  2. Cakeeater
    Report Abuse
    Cakeeater - March 22, 2013 9:03 pm
    As a Minnesotan who visits Missoula every summer, I can tell you watching an Osprey game in that beautiful stadium is part of the draw that brings me back. Spend lots of $$ at restaurants, hotels, etc while in town. Just one family's experience, I know, but don't forget that perspective.
  3. kblackwell
    Report Abuse
    kblackwell - March 22, 2013 7:47 pm
    I am confident that as long as Jaffee and Engen are minding the store, there will ALWAYS be a way to get City money into the hands of these stooges.
  4. MTminded
    Report Abuse
    MTminded - March 22, 2013 1:24 pm
    If the organizers of the fund raiser for Friends of the Civic Stadium want to be assured of a good turnout for their event I suggest they use the following four words as part of the promotion: Wes Spiker, tar, feathers.
  5. pose
    Report Abuse
    pose - March 22, 2013 12:42 pm
    http://missoulian.com/news/local/play-ball-missoula-city-could-own-park-with-m-from/article_79820848-adc9-11e0-86a3-001cc4c002e0.html

    From the article above in 2011 " When his parents lived a couple of blocks away from the stadium, Engen said they occasionally heard the crack of a bat, and the sound made them feel like they were part of the community."

    time to pony up again taxpayers, for the good of the community. The Fort Missoula Masterplan should have been well underway instead of this.
  6. whitelandia
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    whitelandia - March 22, 2013 10:32 am
    sound? lol
  7. whitelandia
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    whitelandia - March 22, 2013 10:31 am
    I worked briefly as an usher, i thought it would be fun. But , truth be told. It is not. We were reusing old rags that left my hands filthy. People do not tip the ushers who get paid about $8 an hour. This is not a big city. It cannot support professional baseball at rookie league level or any level. This is a waste of the taxpayers money. What have the osprey contributed to our city? Nothing? Just loudness to neighbors, traffic jams that require police to direct traffic. That means more taxpayer money wasted. The stadium was built in a horrible location. No bus service available to and from stadium at night or on Sundays. Other cities have been successful at getting corporations to sponsor the stadium by giving them the right to use their nama and logo all around stadium . It is time for the Osprey to put up or leave.

    There are many ways i can spend my entertainment dollar and for many misosulians. It is not watching low level rookie league baseball.
  8. Born Here
    Report Abuse
    Born Here - March 22, 2013 10:11 am
    Imagine that, surprise,surprise. Anybody with a lick of common sense could see this train wreck coming a mile away. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that a single purpose venue like this, can not sustain itself in the Missoula Montana economic climate. (unless it's funded by us taxpayers, like the other stadiums in the state, of course) Should have taken the same amount of money that was pissed-away on this albatross, and built a Multi-Purpose venue that can be used ALL year around, by ALL the residents of the area, for ALL kinds of different things. Whoa, wait a minute, that's too logical. Don't worry, the city will come in again, and bail it out with our tax dollars.
  9. BobbyLee
    Report Abuse
    BobbyLee - March 22, 2013 8:51 am
    So the City bought a lemon from their friends with our money and now intend to hijack the popular brewfest model -- and remove even more custom from the local taxpaying bars in the process -- in an attempt to subsidize their failed entity even further. But then not even have this fundraiser event at the event stadium? Brilliant deduction Watson, just brilliant! But Engen and Jaffe are not at all worried. Mon Dieu! quelle surprise!

    Did this 'we're not worried' propagandized article first have to pass Jaffe and Engen's vetting process? Because if Missoula taxpayers really knew how much total money has been wasted on this flawed project since inception -- to bail out yet more of Engen's cronies -- the people would be clamoring for the State to do an investigation. Then, of course, the question arises as to why the State has not already picked up on the obvious corruption. But not really, since this level of corruption clearly reaches -- through convenient high-placed friends -- all the way to Helena and beyond, all hidden behind a veil of self-righteous piety in 'serving the public's best interests.'

    The notion of drinking a beer to solely subsidize a failed entity even further, in order to prolong the city's misery and, of course, primarily, justify Engen and Jaffe's choice of blatant cronyism, kinda puts a putrid taste in the thought of that ale doesn't it?
  10. Pistol
    Report Abuse
    Pistol - March 22, 2013 8:07 am
    When pro baseball was introduced I wrote the Missoulian, and asked why doesn't the pro team share a field with the legion team? Great Falls, Billings, and Helena all share a field with the legion team. Follow the money! Someone made or thought they would make money off the ground the stadium was built. I was involved when the pro team came to Helena. They built a new concession stand, dugouts, box seat section, shower rooms to the exisiting field. That gave the legion team a better facility, and the pro team didn't have to raise millions. I believe, correct me if I'm wrong Missoula's legion team plays on a field on county property. Maybe the powers of being could work out an agreement with the legion team to play in the stadium. Then the ground the legion field is on could be sold or leased with all or part of the revenue going towards the stadium.
  11. jima
    Report Abuse
    jima - March 22, 2013 7:58 am
    Maybe they could begin calling it Missoula College Stadium. Who knows, with a little creative accounting, they could make this fiasco profitable...
  12. Kojack
    Report Abuse
    Kojack - March 22, 2013 7:01 am
    surprise, surprise, spurprise
  13. Roger
    Report Abuse
    Roger - March 22, 2013 6:58 am
    What a fiasco - the city has its priorities all mixed up - no public money should have been used for the stadium, or the Osprey, period.
  14. MTminded
    Report Abuse
    MTminded - March 22, 2013 5:30 am
    Ah, yes, White Elephant Stadium...the gift that keeps on taking.

    It is a sad indication of the possible success of this venture when a fund raiser's venue is not even that of the facility for which the funds need to be raised.
  15. jabo
    Report Abuse
    jabo - March 21, 2013 11:49 pm
    Keep pushing beer and music at missoula and we will go for anything. Kind of makes us sound like a bunch of idiots.
  16. Buzz Feedback
    Report Abuse
    Buzz Feedback - March 21, 2013 11:11 pm
    It's a money pit with no bottom. Meanwhile, main streets in the city resemble the surface of the moon. Welcome to CronyTown!

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