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Rob Partain, a groundskeeper for Ogren Park at Allegiance Field, works on the infield Monday afternoon in preparation for the Missoula Osprey's game with the Orem Owlz on Monday evening.

The city of Missoula is buying the baseball stadium.

On a split vote Monday, the Missoula City Council agreed to spend $2 million of urban renewal money and issue $1.555 million in revenue bonds to purchase Ogren Park at Allegiance Field. Mountain Baseball, which owns the Osprey, will pay off the bond, according to a city resolution.

The deal nearly puts to rest the turmoil surrounding the stadium. On Monday, opponents said they feared a financial nightmare would rear its head at the ballpark again, but council supporters said they believed keeping the stadium out of foreclosure was good for Missoula.

"The ballpark is one of those places that really is turning this area into a jewel for the city," said Councilwoman Pam Walzer, who supported the stadium contracts.

"We have a dream for that area where that stadium is," said Councilman Jon Wilkins, who had been on the fence until Monday. "We worked on it."

He said he wanted to support investments already made in the neighborhood and also to keep people working at the ballpark. Wilkins urged people to have faith the contracts will put an end to the facility's financial woes, although he admitted he, too, has lingering doubts.

"Am I leery that maybe things won't work out in the future? Yeah, I'm leery about that," Wilkins said.

Some members of the public were more than leery. At a public hearing last week, many supporters along with opponents of the deal packed Council Chambers. On Monday, only a couple of opponents spoke.

"It's surprisingly easy to spend other people's money, isn't it?" said Linda Frey, who noted she was disturbed about the pattern of bailing out the baseball stadium.

Councilors Lyn Hellegaard, Renee Mitchell and Dick Haines opposed the deal, and Mitchell did so with a "No, no and no."

Hellegaard said she remained concerned about several issues. She worried that if Mountain Baseball defaults on its payments, the situation will have some residual effect on the city's other bond ratings.

She also said people see many other uses for the $2 million of urban renewal funds. It's money that could be used for infrastructure to reduce the cost of housing in the neighborhood, for instance.

"They would like it put to a vote. They would like a say in this," Hellegaard said, although she did not make a motion to place it on the ballot.

Play Ball Missoula formed to build the stadium and donate it to the city of Missoula. It built the stadium, but costs skyrocketed along the way. Although it raised more money than originally planned, the nonprofit found itself unable to meet its financial obligations with multiple creditors able to trigger foreclosure.

Councilman Bob Jaffe, though, said it's incorrect to say the group failed repeatedly. Rather, Jaffe said it has been successfully raising money, but the dollars have been going to pay interest. He said the hope is that the stadium will book more concerts in the future to make its $120,000 annual payments to the city.

The contracts approved Monday are intended to put Play Ball on track. Financial institutions and individuals also are forgiving some debt, and people who made personal guarantees are paying up.

Jaffe said some people fear the city is going under, and while times aren't easy, he doesn't want to see the stadium foreclose: "We do continue to build and the city of Missoula will continue to grow, and yes, this is a recession and these are hard times. But we don't throw in the towel here. We need to keep moving forward and keep investing in our community."

The city's bond counsel is working to finalize a separate but related contract to protect stadium lease payments to the city.

Reporter Keila Szpaller can be reached at @KeilaSzpaller, 523-5262, keila.szpaller@missoulian.com or on MissoulaRedTape.com.

 

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