Missoula Redevelopment Agency (MRA) Director Geoff Badenoch initiated Monday’s public comment period in front of City Council with the current MRA and Play Ball Missoula mantra: “Circumstances have changed.”
Over the last few weeks, City Council members—often led by Ward 2’s Jim McGrath—have questioned how circumstances could have changed enough to warrant the city kicking in another $1 million toward the completion of a civic stadium. The Council has also wondered if the funding requests will ever end. But of the three or four dozen people who gave public comment Monday, the vast majority weren’t concerned with the extra million—they just wanted a ballpark. A cavalcade of local characters—from members of the Missoula Downtown Association and former Council members to the local carpenters’ union and eighth grade softball players—showed up to voice support for the stadium. Even the family of Mike Ellis, who owns the Missoula Osprey, tearfully testified to the necessity of a new facility.
“It’s not about baseball. I rarely even see a game,” chuckled Judy Ellis, wife of Mike. Then she became solemn and choked up: “It’s not about baseball, it’s about community.”
While supporters outnumbered detractors almost 4 to 1, a few lonely voices did speak out against awarding Play Ball the additional $1 million. Most of the critics concentrated their comments on the rising costs. They wondered if Play Ball was going to come back in six months or a year and ask for more money if they couldn’t raise enough on their own. This has been Councilman McGrath’s concern all along.
The $1 million the city has already pledged can go only toward non-stadium costs—like the construction of parking lots and the extending of riverfront trails. The proposed second million would go toward building the actual stadium. But even with the city’s $2 million, Play Ball has to raise another $2 million to open the stadium by the summer, and a total of $8 million to complete the project.
McGrath is so convinced that Play Ball’s fundraising efforts will stumble he asked the organization to promise it wouldn’t request any more city funding if this $1 million is awarded. After the question bounced around the room for a few seconds, Play Ball treasurer Jack Meyer finally stepped up and said that this was the last million the organization would ever ask for.
But that wasn’t enough reassurance for McGrath, and instead of deciding on the issue, McGrath and Council sent it back to the Administration and Finance Committee, where it was discussed further this week. The Council will most likely move it out of committee and make a final decision at its meeting on Monday, March 17.