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Despite obstacles, Play Ball digs for home

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Winter may have thrown the new baseball stadium two strikes—harsh weather and a weak economy—but Play Ball Missoula says it’s still standing and will not strike out.

In fact, a new approach to fundraising has been very successful, according to Wes Spiker, a Play Ball board member. A shortage of funds has kept the stadium from its planned opening for this coming season, but Play Ball thinks it has found a method to raise enough money to open next year.

For the last two months, volunteer fundraising teams have been canvassing the city in search of donations.

“We went out and got the really key volunteers in this town who know how to make things happen and raise money,” Spiker says. “All indications are so far it’s going very well.”

Current estimates for the total cost of constructing the stadium run from $5.8 million to $8 million, Spiker says. Play Ball has raised several million already, he says, but has also spent a considerable amount on site preparation and the initial stages of construction.

The goal for the new stadium was originally to have it completed for opening day of this season, or by the mid-season all-star break at the latest. However, the slump in the national economy affected Play Ball when several local companies said they could not come through with major donations. The preparation has already been done for the downtown site and the steel foundation has been laid, but construction has remained dormant for months.

Another outstanding issue for the stadium is the legal challenge by a local community group known as Fair Play Missoula which objects to the site selected and to the city’s financial relationship with Play Ball. After losing their case in court, Fair Play appealed to the Montana Supreme Court last spring, and is still waiting for a verdict from the state’s highest court. If Fair Play were to win, they would want a citywide vote on “whether the city can enter into a contract with Play Ball to build a stadium and manage it on that site,” says Alan Blakely, a Missoula lawyer representing Fair Play.

Meanwhile, when the Osprey, Missoula’s Pioneer League baseball team, open their season on June 15, it will once again be paying at Lindborg-Cregg Stadium. Although the goal for the new stadium will be to open next season, Spiker cautions that the construction will take place in phases as money comes in.

“We just need to remind everybody that civic projects like this are hard projects to do,” he says. “This is the only civic stadium built in the U.S. in the last 10 years without any public assistance. It’s the only thing like that out there.”

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