Now that the legal wrangling is over, the long-awaited permanent nest for our Missoula Osprey may finally become a reality—at least in part. Joe Easton, a member of the board of directors for Play Ball Missoula—the organization responsible for the fundraising and building of the stadium for Missoula’s professional baseball franchise—reports that the board will be voting this week on the initial bids for the first phase of construction. The timeline for the project will, according to Easton, allow the Osprey to open the 2002 season in their new digs on the banks of the Clark Fork. Sort of.
The yet-to-be-named stadium was originally slated to be completed for the start of the 2000 season, the team’s second year in town. A well-documented series of legal obstacles, led primarily by neighborhood group Fair Play Missoula, obliterated that timeline. As a result of those difficulties, Easton says, the stadium will now be constructed in several phases.
“Our main goal right now is to have enough of the stadium built so the team can open next season there,” says Easton, adding that the minimum amenities to meet that goal include the playing field, outfield wall, scoreboard and stands. “We’re going to build what we can afford to build now and worry about the next stages as the fundraising process continues.”
The financial picture for the privately-funded stadium—an anomaly in this day and age of publicly-funded (mostly through special taxes) sports arena—has become muddied largely, says Easton, because of the legal calisthenics surrounding the issue.
“The uncertainty about the project has kept people away from a fundraising basis,” he says. “There’s no question that the opposition has cost the ballpark one season, if not two.”
The main sticking point in the fundraising process is the selling of the naming rights for the stadium. “We were initially very confident that the naming-rights process would go quickly and smoothly,” says Easton. “But now we think we’ll have to get the team playing downtown before a fair bid for the rights will be made.”
According to Matt Ellis, the general manager of the Osprey, a 2002 opening will come none too soon. “I’m not sure we could play another year here,” says Ellis as he gazes over the Osprey’s temporary home at Legion-ball Lindborg-Cregg Field. “Major League Baseball has a pretty strict set of rules for ballparks, and this field does not meet them. I don’t know if they[MLB] would have allowed the team to come here if they knew it was going to be three years.”