Osprey ballpark

The process for deciding if McCormick Park should house a professional baseball stadium should become more clear Wednesday, but actual progress toward that decision may remain a long way off.

The Missoula City Council's Committee of the Whole returns to its baseball debate after a two-week break at 4 p.m. in City Hall. One of the top topics will be clarifying the role of a "team" that is "to formulate a use agreement" governing stadium construction and management. Who is on that team and what its mission will be have become concerns for both the stadium's supporters and Mayor Mike Kadas, who originally proposed the team idea.

"The issue of this team has to be sorted out a bit," Kadas said Tuesday. "It has an advisory function, but it's ultimately up to the (mayor's office) staff to develop a draft agreement. We have to get to the point where we actually know what we're talking about. Then we can give people the opportunity to pin down their concerns."

The team question was also a high priority for Play Ball Missoula, the nonprofit organization of Missoula-area baseball boosters. Its board chairman, First Security Bank Vice President Wey Symmes, sent a list of 11 responses to the City Council's June 14 decision to consider McCormick Park as a stadium site.

"We see no reason to proceed if this 'team' is burdened with people who are opposed to the use of McCormick for the Osprey Ballpark," Symmes wrote. "While we agree the neighborhood should have some representation, there should be representatives … who favor the project."

The organization has been scouting locations for a 3,500-seat stadium in or near Missoula. It intends to privately raise between $5 million and $6 million for construction and operations. The organization also led the lobbying effort to attract the Pioneer League Osprey baseball team from Lethbridge, Alberta, to Missoula.

"(W)e understand that the political process required weakening the resolution to where it became an invitation to consider whether it would be an appropriate site for the ballpark," Symmes wrote. Play Ball Missoula has considerations of its own, he added.

Among them was the worry about possible lawsuits if the city goes ahead with the McCormick Park site. Symmes said he'd heard at least three people or organizations threaten to sue if the project goes forward. While the city government would have the main job of defending against any lawsuit, the court time could delay the project long enough to force consideration of a different stadium location.

Parking and driving conditions at the American Legion ballfield where the Osprey now play have convinced Play Ball Missoula there should be a lot of parking at McCormick if a stadium goes there. Symmes wrote that at least half the Champion land next to McCormick Park should be used to augment on-site parking.

And finally, the question of other uses at the park raised concerns. Symmes wrote the park must make money to help pay off $5 million in construction and operation expenses.

"This will require a business plan that allows for other uses besides baseball 38 nights per year," he wrote. "To take other events off the table in negotiations with the various factions without serious consideration of a business plan would be irresponsible at best, particularly since we are charged with operating the ballpark at no expense to the taxpayers."

Some other unknowns are the attitudes of McCormick Park-area residents and the Missoula Softball Association membership, which uses two amateur ball fields now at the park. But Kadas said those answers may play only a small part in the big decisions.

"I don't see the city going out and sanctioning polls of various groups to get their opinions on things," Kadas said. "It's the City Council that is responsible for those decisions, not a poll of neighborhood folks or organizations."

Council President Chris Gingerelli said last week meetings could continue through July before any firm action plan is ready to investigate McCormick Park as a stadium site. Kadas said he understands

Play Ball Missoula's wish to have a stadium ready for the beginning of baseball season in June 2000, but that simply may not be doable.

"There's only so fast we can move as well," Kadas said. "Some folks will probably think it's too fast. Play Ball will think its too slow. But nothing is a drop-dead demand that can't be discussed."

Wednesday - 6/30/99

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