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Fair Play asks judge to halt stadium construction

Fair Play asks judge to halt stadium construction

Protestors argue city broke state's urban renewal laws

Baseball stadium opponents moved their fight to the courtroom Friday with a lawsuit calling for a halt to construction at the vacant lot next to Missoula's McCormick Park.state's urban renewal laws

There was no immediate response from District Judge John Larson on the complaint. City Attorney Jim Nugent said he had 20 days to respond and had not heard of any preliminary decisions that could stop Saturday's planned groundbreaking at the stadium site. Stadium supporters must have the ball field finished in time for the 2001 baseball season to retain their Pioneer League franchise team.

The complaint by Fair Play Missoula, the protesters' organization, also asked the court to block contracts between the city government and Play Ball Missoula, the organization building the stadium. The protesters argue the city and Play Ball Missoula made those deals before exploring other proposals for the vacant land, violating the state's urban renewal laws.

The city maintains it acted legally in making the contracts with Play Ball Missoula and was not required to follow the urban renewal laws. It also claims that any tax dollars spent on the project would be separate from Play Ball Missoula's right to build the stadium itself.

Fair Play Missoula is coordinating a petition drive to suspend another Missoula City Council resolution authorizing stadium construction until a public vote can be held next year. The petition needs signatures from 4,212 registered Missoula City voters by late May to suspend the resolution. The protesters say the city's contracts with Play Ball Missoula are illegal until the urban renewal issue is settled.

The lawsuit came the day before Play Ball Missoula scheduled its groundbreaking ceremonies for the planned 3,500-seat professional baseball stadium at noon Saturday. It's intended to be home to the Pioneer League Missoula Osprey team.

Some nearby residents have complained the stadium will cause unwanted noise, traffic and disruption of their neighborhood. Other Missoulians have opposed using any city tax dollars in the deal. The City Council has authorized spending about $1 million on public facilities in the $8 million project. Play Ball Missoula is to raise the rest of the money from private sources.

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