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Media blitz has urgent fund-raising message

In November the yellow billboard on Broadway asked the question, "Can you see it?"

Which triggered the question - "See what?" - that its sponsors hoped for.

A television advertisement that began airing Christmas Day has answered both. The "Can you see it?" campaign is tied to construction of the civic stadium that will be home to the Osprey, Missoula's minor league baseball team. The billboard sat almost directly across the Clark Fork River from the construction site.

The TV commercial asks the same "Can you see it?" question to the sounds of a baseball game accompanied by "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." It mentions other possible uses for the stadium - Little Grizzly football, First Night Missoula - and morphs into a funeral dirge before switching back to the happier sounds of the summer pastime.

The third phase of the campaign - people sporting buttons that read, "I can see it" - has already begun.

The campaign is meant to remind the public the stadium can be used by more than just the Osprey, and to encourage donations from those who have waited for the proposed stadium to wend its way through long legal and public wranglings and begin to take shape, according to Thom Carter, development director of Play Ball Missoula.

"People have been waiting until they could see it," Carter said. "Pipes are in. The wiring's in. The retaining walls are up. If you go on site, you can see where the seats will go, you can see where home plate will be."

Now Play Ball hopes to raise $200,000 by February so it can complete the bidding processes for the stadium, especially for the seats, Carter said.

The billboards, ads and pins will probably cost Play Ball between $4,000 and $5,000 by the time they're done, said Wes Spiker of Spiker Communications, which devised the campaign. Spiker is donating all of its services, and helped arrange better advertising deals for the group.

"The point is you can see it, if you bother to take a look," Spiker said. "It's amazing how it's starting to look like a stadium."

The funeral music "is not supposed to signify that it's not going to happen," Carter said. "Our marketing group is trying to convey a sense of urgency. Never before have we been this close. Never before have we been able to see it, taste it, smell it, like we can now.

"We want to make sure people know the urgent nature. We're not going to lose baseball. But we do need to step up at the end here, and in the next four weeks, people can be a part of that."

Play Ball also wants to remind people it's a civic stadium and can be used for more than the 38 home Osprey games in the summer. Serving as a venue for First Night Missoula is one possibility.

Serving as a site for Little Grizzly football games is another. Mike McChesney, on the board of directors of the Little Grizzly program, said the league has talked about expanding by four teams, and is running out of space at the Mount Sentinel Little League complex where games are now played. The league did have conversations with Play Ball a couple of years ago about using the civic stadium, although Play Ball did not talk to the Little Grizzly program about including it in the TV ads.

Job fairs, flea markets, swap meets, a farmers market and car shows are other possible uses for the stadium, Carter said.

"People think Play Ball and the Osprey are the same thing, but they're not," Carter said. "True, originally (Play Ball) wanted to bring minor league baseball to the city. But we wanted to bolster the local economy, too, and build something for the entire city."

The stadium has a budget of $9 million. Phase 1 includes constructing the playing field, outfield fence, clubhouse, restrooms, concession space and seating for 3,000. A second phase, scheduled to start after the 2004 season, includes finishing the concession area, building a community room and adding 300 to 400 seats.

Plans for a city-built parking lot remain on hold pending private negotiations concerning ownership of the rest of the old mill site where the stadium sits. Missoula Mayor Mike Kadas said Tuesday that a new, unidentified player is close to signing an option to purchase the lease on the land.

The mayor indicated the city did not plan to use its eminent domain power to force sale of land for a parking lot, but that the stadium might have to use temporary parking for the 2004 season.

Missoulian reporter Rob Chaney contributed to this story.

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