The largest promoter of entertainment in Missoula has entered into an exclusive agreement with the city to produce events at Ogren Park in time for the 2019 concert season, the business announced on Monday.
Yet to be reviewed or approved by the City Council, the agreement solves an ongoing revenue problem at the city-owned venue, which until now has relied upon the Missoula Osprey baseball team’s lease payments to service the stadium’s debt.
Now Logjam Presents, which owns The Wilma, Top Hat Lounge and KettleHouse Amphitheater, will share the facility with the Pioneer League baseball team. Nick Checota, who owns Logjam, said the stadium will help bring larger artists to the region.
“Ogren Park will complement our current Missoula venue portfolio of the Top Hat, the Wilma and the KettleHouse Amphitheater,” he said in a statement released Monday.
Checota, who announced in April his plans to also enter the Bozeman market, said Logjam plans to enhance the stadium’s sound and production capabilities, along with other entertainment upgrades.
In addition, Logjam will work with the city to add 2,000 seats, increasing the capacity from 8,000 to 10,000 people.
“Ogren Park is a fantastic facility with a great riverfront location in close proximity to downtown Missoula,” Checota said. “With some key investments in sound and production, we feel this could become a very attractive regional option to larger touring artists.”
In a written statement, Missoula Mayor John Engen said the agreement between the city and Logjam will benefit the region’s economy, along with Missoula’s cultural landscape.
“Logjam is a great local company that employs more than 200 in Missoula, is a generous community partner and delivers high-quality entertainment for Missoulians and visitors,” said Engen, who is on vacation. “Missoula is on the map as a quality music community and this agreement meets a number of our goals.”
Logjam currently owns and operates The Wilma, which has a capacity of 1,500 people, and the Top Hat, with room for 600. The KettleHouse Amphitheater, which made its debut last summer, has a capacity of 4,500.
After renovations to Ogren Park, the facility will seat more than all three venues combined. The stadium is owned by the city, and the agreement announced Monday still needs the consideration and approval of City Council members. At Monday night’s meeting, two new civic stadium leases were referred to the council’s Administration and Finance Committee, then will eventually return to the full council for approval.
A brief memo summarizing the plan said Logjam Presents will use the civic stadium for comedy and music events, and will pay the city $70,000 per year. Meanwhile, Mountain Baseball will utilize the stadium for baseball games and other community events for a fee of $40,000 per year.
“Mountain Baseball will retain primary responsibility for the stadium,” the referral memo said. “The new leases ensure that the civic stadium is being put to the highest and best use. Additionally, the leases establish a maintenance fund for the stadium.”
Council members have not yet received a copy of the proposed leases. The committee referral said those documents will be available by July 27.
A city memo dated May 9 suggested that baseball games alone aren’t enough for Mountain Baseball (owner of the Missoula Osprey) to cover its annual lease payment of $120,000 – made in four equal installments over the course of four months.
The payment, according to the memo prepared by the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, is the annual amount needed to service the stadium’s debt. That leaves no money for maintenance or upgrades.
New sources of revenue are needed to make the annual debt payment and provide for the facility’s long-term success, the memo added.
“After six years of operating under that lease, it is evident that the terms of the lease are unrealistic,” the memo stated, adding that Logjam’s investments in concert venues, along with Big Sky Brewing’s own facility, challenged the stadium’s ability to compete in the entertainment realm.
The memo was drafted to go before MRA’s board of directors in May, though the topic was tabled and has not resurfaced.
The proposal at the time sought to pay off a portion of the stadium’s debt using $758,000 in tax increment financing from Urban Renewal District II, thus reducing Mountain Baseball’s lease payment. There also was talk of possibly refinancing the stadium bond to extend the repayment schedule, again to lower the annual payments, according to City Councilwoman Gwen Jones.
“Mayor Engen and I have been working with Mountain Baseball for some time to find a way to increase the stadium’s revenue generation capacity,” MRA Director Ellen Buchanan wrote at the time. “ We are investigating ways that the stadium could be used for a larger part of the year, ideally even year around.”
Then came the solution from Checota – a plan that allows the city to reduce Mountain Baseball’s annual payment, with the shortfall made up for by the payments from Logjam Presents.
“This is a solution that presented itself,” said Jones, who chairs the council committee that will consider the new leases.
While Mountain Baseball tried to diversify its offerings at the stadium, Logjam Presents “has the experience in the entertainment business,” she said. “They have the connections to make this happen. So we’re going to change things up a little bit.”
Checota’s announcement of the deal on Monday caught the city by surprise, but council members said they weren’t concerned. The plan will be finalized and approved by the City Council following its normal procedures, said council president Bryan von Lossberg. The public will have a chance to review and comment on the deal as well.
The Administration and Finance Committee will take its first look at the new leases at 9:40 a.m. on Aug. 1 in City Council Chambers.