McGrath pitches one low and outside 

So many of us fantasize about hitting the jackpot, but do we really know what we’d do with all that cash? Maybe put in an Olympic-sized swimming pool? Or buy the naming rights to a stadium? Or maybe even tinker with the idea of giving back to those less fortunate than ourselves? Unlike many of us, Missoula City Councilman Jim McGrath has very particular ideas about what he’d do—so particular that he put his plans down on paper.

Reacting to Mayor Mike Kadas’ thought-bubble, floated last week, that the city should chip in a second million toward the construction of the Osprey’s baseball stadium, McGrath sent a bevy of referrals to council dealing with how he thinks that same $1 million should be spent.

“The cluster of referrals is a way of putting the mayor’s proposal to throw a million dollars into the stadium into a larger context,” says McGrath. “And the larger context includes promises made by the city and the redevelopment agency and Play Ball Missoula.”

McGrath is upset because he believes the city’s deal with Play Ball Missoula, to limit the city’s subsidy of the project to $1 million, has been broken.

Of the five different pitches McGrath has tossed out—including returning funds to the taxing jurisdictions and committing them to the renovation of the McCormick pool—the most interesting idea may be Missoula’s purchase of its own minor league franchise. If this were to happen, Missoula—along with Green Bay and their Packers and Toledo and their Mud Hens—would be one of the few American municipalities in the business of running a pro sports team. It would also ensure that Missoula’s team never pulls up stakes because it’s not getting the money it wants, says McGrath.

“This is fairly rare in baseball because the racketeers in baseball say you can’t do it,” he say. “But if it’s a civic stadium, then let’s protect our investment, otherwise we’ll be extorted over and over again. They’ve shown that.”

McGrath worries that the stadium will be a black hole for Missoulians’ money—$1 million will become $2 million then $3 million and on up until the ball club gets as much as it wants. And then the club may bail on the town anyway. Mayor Kadas doesn’t think McGrath’s vision is likely.

“Part of the development agreement requires that Play Ball have a ten-year lease from the Osprey,” he says. “I also think that that [the Osprey leaving] was more of a concern earlier. I think that Play Ball has had every excuse to leave and they haven’t done it. I’m convinced that they really want to stay.”

Kadas also doesn’t think the city owning the team is a very good idea.

“I don’t think that it could happen in this case,” he says. “I think it would probably be more of a headache than it would be worth for the city to have a baseball team.”

But even if the Osprey stay put, McGrath has other concerns. He wonders what redevelopment projects are being put off in the name of the great American pastime. The Wilma, the Poverello Center, Partnership Health Center and the Roxy Theater are just a few he thinks could be getting the short end of the bat.

“What’s the public value we get for public money and what are our priorities as a community?” he asks. “Those are the key questions that need to be asked, not whether or not baseball is fun.”

But Kadas’ ethos isn’t centered on the fun of the game. He’s looking toward what the stadium will do for Missoula and downtown. While the stadium could prove an economic boon, the city’s multimillion-dollar investment will also make the town a better place, he says.

“If you’ve ever been out to any of those ball games you see a lot of really positive mixing of ages and income groups,” says the mayor. “One of the responsibilities we have as a city government is to create the possibility for those opportunities. That’s good for the community.”

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