The Missoula Osprey’s biggest win of the season may have come Monday, Aug. 28, when City Council approved allowing the downtown baseball stadium, owned by nonprofit Play Ball Missoula but sited on city land, to serve as collateral for a $6 million loan.
The step was essential to securing the financing package, involving Missoula Federal Credit Union, First Security Bank, Montana Community Development Corp. and a few private individuals, designed to allow Missoula’s minor league baseball park to finally finish construction as well as consolidate existing debt, says Susan Estep, with Play Ball Missoula’s board of directors. Play Ball Chairman Wes Spiker was unavailable for comment.
Besides a longstanding need to complete a stadium that so far meets neither Missoula City-County health codes nor Major League Baseball’s minimum requirements, the deal was also spurred by the team’s parent organization, the Arizona Diamondbacks, which recently told the Independent it planned to decide the Osprey’s future with the Diamondbacks by Sept. 7, dependent on the stadium’s completion prospects.
Though Estep posits the move as a “win-win for everybody,” and says construction will re-begin in September, Monday’s meeting touched on fears about unwarranted risk.
“The city’s setting itself up to lose land or for another round of bailouts,” said longtime stadium opponent Ross Best in comments later echoed by Councilman Don Nicholson, who cast the lone dissenting vote.
Until now, the city had prohibited liens on the stadium property. While Council amended the agreement to allow for city-approved liens, it also added a provision providing the city with first rights to buy out any outstanding debts.
Though Nicholson says that move eased some concerns, it still leaves the city facing the possibility, however remote, of losing land—originally donated to the city—or forking over future funds to keep it public.
However, Councilwoman Stacy Rye said the calculated risk is in the city’s interest and worth taking because the stadium is an important neighborhood asset, and once the project’s complete, Play Ball has pledged to turn it over to the city.
“Sometimes you have to take a little risk, and this isn’t much of one,” echoed Councilman Jack Reidy.