Logjam Presents production company and the City of Missoula have proposed an agreement to bring concerts to Ogren Park staring next year, according to an announcement made Monday morning.
The agreement is still pending approval by the City Council. It will go to the Administration and Finance Committee on Wednesday, Aug. 1, before heading to the full council.
The baseball field could attract bigger artists to Montana, said Logjam President Nick Checota. The company is looking at ways to increase the capacity from 8,000 to 10,000 people.
He hopes to book four to six shows in 2019. Logjam owns the Top Hat Lounge (600 capacity), the Wilma (1,500) and the KettleHouse Amphitheater (4,000). Earlier this year, the company announced plans for a brand-new venue in Bozeman with the same capacity as the Wilma.
Logjam plans on making improvements for sound and production at the ballpark.
For instance, an additional emergency exit in the outfield would allow the capacity to increase to 10,000.
They also plan on investing in field protection to place beneath the stage. They intend to bring in a temporary stage for the outfield, just as concert promoters have done in the past.
He said they've been coordinating with the Missoula Osprey so they can bring in concerts without interfering with the baseball schedule. No acts have been booked yet, and no announcements are likely until January.
In prior years, the Osprey have worked with CMoore Live Productions. Earlier this summer, that company brought in the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan, and last summer booked Paul Simon.
Checota hopes that in the first year he can book one large rock act, one country act, one pop act, and one classic rock act. The ballpark's capacity will allow for artists that can't "scale down" to play at the amphitheater, he said.
The concerts would be staffed by Logjam, which has around 200 all-local employees, and the company also will handle alcohol and beverage sales under the catering license through the Top Hat.
In a press release, Mayor John Engen said, “Missoula is on the map as a quality music community and this agreement meets a number of our goals, including using the community asset that is the stadium for events in addition to the wonderful entertainment the Missoula Osprey offers during its season,” Engen said. Engen was not in Missoula on Monday and was unavailable for comment.
Under the agreement, Logjam will enter into a long-term lease that gives it the exclusive right to book concerts and comedy events at the ballpark. Mountain Baseball, the company that owns the Osprey, would handle day-to-day operations and host community events. Under the lease, pending approval by the City Council, Logjam will pay $70,000 per year. Mountain Baseball will pay $40,000 per year. The leases are on the Aug. 1 committee agenda for consideration and public comment.
The city and Mountain Baseball, the company that owns the Missoula Osprey baseball team, signed a lease agreement for the stadium in 2012. That placed the park, constructed in 2004, into city ownership. The city had contributed land and $2 million into its construction and infrastructure, equaling around $4 million. A nonprofit, Play Ball Missoula, raised $6 million but faced litigation and foreclosure after construction costs shot up.
Ownership was transferred to the city in 2012 under a set of transactions that prevented a foreclosure.
In a memo written by Ellen Buchanan, director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, she describes terms of that lease as "unrealistic." It required Mountain Baseball to pay $120,000 a year to service the stadium's debt.
Buchanan said in a phone call that there are no other Pioneer League teams that make lease payments that large, calling the price tag "not sustainable on the back of baseball." She noted that Mountain Baseball always made its payments.
There was an MRA proposal to refinance the debt to lower the lease payments. Gwen Jones, council representative of Ward 3, said that triggered discussions about different business models for the stadium.
The original plan when the city took over the stadium was to hold large events and concerts. Thus far, the ballpark has hosted a few large shows each summer. Buchanan said Logjam is better equipped to attract and produce large shows such as Paul Simon or Willie Nelson and Alison Krauss, since the company is already plugged into industry.
The agreement could also direct money into a maintenance fund for the stadium. Originally, a group of local residents, called the Friends of the Civic Stadium, tried to raise money for such a fund, but were unsuccessful. Buchanan said that raised concerns that the city would eventually be handed a large bill when a major repair was required.
Under the agreement with Logjam, the company will pay a percentage of ticket revenue into a maintenance fund for upkeep at the park. The ticket fee will cover the $10,000 difference between the prior lease and the current ones.
Buchanan said concerts will yield far more use of the stadium and bring more business into downtown.
Checota said the location, within walking distance of downtown on the river, will have "good buzz" for downtown in general, and that the stadium's infrastructure lends itself to big shows.
Logjam has booked almost 20 concerts this season at the Bonner amphitheater. Between Logjam's venues, the Big Sky Brewing Company Amphitheater's season and the Adams Center, the Missoula area has seen more large concerts than any time in recent memory.
That has raised some questions about over-saturation, but Checota said he hasn't seen any sign of concert fatigue. Only one concert in Bonner this year isn't selling at the level that they had estimated, and the shows are drawing audiences from the broader region.