A preliminary sketch showing how a professional baseball stadium might fit in McCormick Park may have miscalculated the size of the playing field, making it appear to take less space in the park than it actually would.

McCormick-area resident Roman Kuczer challenged the drawing Wednesday, saying a more accurate version would show the stadium crowding out walking trails, parking lots and possibly the Orchard Homes irrigation ditch that runs along the park's southwestern boundary.

Kuczer said he opposes putting the stadium in the park.

The nonprofit Play Ball Missoula organization commissioned the drawing by Kent Bray of CTA Architects in Missoula. It was presented at Missoula City Council's Committee of the Whole debate June 9. It was also published in the June 13 Missoulian.

Play Ball Missoula wants to build a 3,500-seat grandstand and a major-league baseball-quality field as a permanent home for the Pioneer League Missoula Osprey ball club. It is considering potential sites at the University of Montana's Dornblaser Field and Missoula County's airport development park as well as the McCormick location. Putting a stadium in McCormick would require removal and possible relocation of two softball fields there.

The Osprey now play at Lindborg-Cregg Field near Big Sky High School. The team has an option to renew its lease there for one more year. Team owners have said they want to be in a permanent home by June 2000, or be well on their way to having a stadium under construction by then.

Bray said Thursday he was not aware of any miscalculations, but would review the drawing. The hand-drawn map was labeled "preliminary draft."

"It's an important challenge, and I want to take the time to look at it," Bray said. Due to staff vacations at the firm, he said a full review probably wouldn't be available until after the July Fourth holiday.

But at a City Council meeting two weeks ago, he acknowledged another error in the map, which implied a group of tennis courts would be moved onto the site where the ropes challenge course now stands. There are no plans now to relocate either facility, he said.

Missoula Redevelopment Agency Director Geoff Badenoch, an associate member of Play Ball Missoula, said the drawing was not meant to be a blueprint of the project.

"It's a conceptual image, so you can ask, 'Do the things relate to each other the way they're supposed to?' " Badenoch said. "Then you go measure things out. Can this tree stay or go?"

Play Ball Missoula ran into a similar problem with its original stadium proposal at an 8-acre field just west of McCormick Park. While initial drawings showed the park comfortably fitting on the land, a more detailed survey found there wasn't enough room to have a safety access road around the stadium. Play Ball Missoula was unable to negotiate an easement or purchase enough land from Idaho Timber Co., which leases the large mill site west of the proposed ballpark, to make the project fit.

"In that case we found a fatal flaw," Badenoch said of the previous site. "You have to start with a good set of given conditions. 'If this is the size hole we have to fill, will the peg fit the hole?' is a pretty accurate way of thinking about it."

Stadium supporters have some breathing time before they must produce hard answers. The Missoula City Council's Committee of the Whole has a June 30 meeting set to begin discussions on how to form a team that will draft a use agreement for a stadium in McCormick Park. But since even the membership of that team is already a point of strong debate, it's unlikely it will be ready for its first meeting before mid-July.

That team is charged with determining how much of the park could be used for a stadium, what other park resources would have to be relocated or replaced and what kinds of responsibilities the city government and Play Ball Missoula would have if the stadium is built.

Any contract it produces must then be reviewed by the City Council. The final version must be acceptable to both the city and Play Ball Missoula, or no stadiu

m can be built. Depending on how the agreement is written, a public vote may also be required.

Friday - 6/25/99

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