Big ticket 

The Performing Arts Center needs $15 million, fast

Even for the most extraordinarily wealthy people, $15 million doesn’t exactly lurk under the couch cushions. So it’s natural to assume that finding a $15 million donor and getting that donor to sign a fat check for you takes a little doing.

Nevertheless, the Missoula Community Performing Arts Center (PAC) committee would have only 18 months to pull it off, based on the recommendation of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency’s (MRA) board. The MRA board wants the Missoula City Council to extend a reservation PAC has on a section of the Riverfront Triangle, as long as PAC adheres to several stipulations.

The MRA board advised the council to require PAC to identify “one or more lead donors” to give between $15-20 million for the estimated $60 million project. The city should keep the land available if and only if PAC succeeds, the MRA says.

Supporters of the performing arts center say they already have some people in mind. A feasibility study commissioned by PAC identified several people willing or committed to this project, says PAC Executive Director Amy Rue.

Requests for large donations are nothing new in Missoula. Whenever an ambitious project is undertaken, fundraisers swing into action. Play Ball Missoula, the Missoula Art Museum, the new School of Journalism on the University of Montana campus––all of these projects have relied heavily on private donations.

But those projects have also had more than 18 months to get funding, and even the largest donations fall far short of $15 million.

For instance, the University of Montana’s new journalism building, Dean Anderson Hall, attracted over 200 donors who gave a total of $11.5 million. Seven donors gave $1 million or more, but it took three years to secure all the money.

Meanwhile, the University of Montana Foundation, which funds a variety of university projects, has secured over $100 million in donations as part of a capital campaign over the last five years. In fiscal year 2006 the foundation was able raise an astounding $15.7 million in contributions. But that took 17,500 donors.

And the UM projects both had something PAC won’t have: a stable of thousands of alums across the country.

A more appropriate comparison can be made to the Missoula Art Museum, which raised $5.3 million for its recent remodel.  But MAM Treasurer Marshall Delano points out that the largest single donation for that project was just $300,000.

“There aren’t that many people around here who can give that kind of money,” Delano says.

Even though Play Ball (the group behind Ogren Park at Allegiance Field) has been through years of legal wrangling, hours of debate by City Council, and complaints about noise and traffic from residents living near the field, it has received a substantial  amount of money from private donors.

“That’s something about this community: It’s so giving,” says Osprey owner Matt Ellis.  The reality, however, is that after seven years Play Ball has raised just over half of its goal of roughly $10 million.

As far as Ward 2 city council member Don Nicholson is concerned, the mega-millionaire do-gooder doesn’t exist in Missoula. Consequently, Nicholson doesn’t see Missoula having a new performing arts center any time soon, regardless of how many people may want it.

“Maybe there is one or three people with that kind of money who live here. But do you think they’re going to give that money away?” he asks. “There are a lot of dreamers in this town.”

The PAC feasibility study does not specify a precise number of potential major donors. It suggests there might be a few, but acknowledges that only one was actually contacted for the study “because of schedule conflicts.”

“There’s always going to be that element who says it’s too expensive or will never use it,” says PAC board member Paul Ritter. He says people raised similar doubts about Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

PAC supporters speculate that the lead donor will most likely not be a full-time local, but a seasonal resident who would enjoy something like the center when in town.

“The person exists,” says MRA Director Ellen Buchanan. “It’s a matter of going out there and getting that person to give the money.”

The group believes the only way to lock in that crucial kind-hearted person is for the Missoula City Council to accept the MRA’s recommendation. “That’s how you get this sort of donor,” Rue says. “You show them that the community really wants it.”

If PAC can secure a donor and the land, then a countywide ballot initiative would be advanced to provide another $20 million in funding. The remaining money will be raised as part of a grassroots campaign.
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