Three-way Missoula stadium deal clears way for concerts, lowers Osprey’s lease

Civic Stadium, or Ogren Park at Allegiance Field, sits in downtown Missoula. The city closed a three-way deal that lowers the annual lease payments paid by the Missoula Osprey professional baseball team and gives Logjam Presents rights to book up to eight concerts a year. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

As musical acts begin booking the 2019 concert season, chances are good Missoula will appear as a new destination – an enticing stopover located between Seattle and Denver with a baseball stadium to fill.

The Missoula City Council on Wednesday ratified an agreement struck with the Missoula Osprey and Logjam Presents to make greater use of Civic Stadium and bring the city more financial security in paying the facility’s debt.

The three-way agreement reduces the professional baseball team’s crippling annual lease from $120,000 to $40,000 a year. It also gives Logjam Presents exclusive rights to hold up to eight concerts or comedy acts annually for $70,000.

“In the end, this provides more security to the city in terms of our ability to pay the mortgage,” said Missoula Mayor John Engen. “It allows us to build a maintenance fund and improve that facility. I wouldn’t be surprised if over time, as a function of this agreement, we’re able to make tenant improvements to make that facility all the more viable.”

Prior to the deal, the city’s annual debt service of $120,000 on the stadium was born by the Missoula Osprey. The Arizona Diamondbacks farm club found the lease unrealistic when compared to other professional teams in other regional cities.

Under the arrangement, the city will reduce the Osprey’s annual lease to $40,000, though the club will retain profits from concessions. The agreement also limits fireworks displays to three times a year and removes the traffic barrier on Hickory Street.

“If you look around the state, other professional baseball teams are paying a fraction of that ($120,000 lease),” Engen said. “That lease has become unsustainable for baseball in Missoula and we’ve long been looking for alternatives to defray that cost and continue paying for debt service.”

Civic Stadium can host up to 10,000 people for larger concerts, allowing Logjam Presents to begin booking the 2018 concert season. (Missoula Current)

As recently as two months ago, the city had looked to refinance the debt through the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, a move considered to reduce the annual lease. Nick Checota, owner of Logjam Presents, stepped in to offer another option.

As a result, the refinancing package was pulled from consideration.

“What we have for you on the concert side of the lease is an agreement where we lease the stadium to Logjam for $70,000 a year,” Engen said. “That lease goes for 10 years with a two-year out, depending on how the market reacts to having this facility available for concerts.”

In exchange for the rights to use the stadium, Logjam will produce up to eight music or comedy acts per year. Starting in 2019, a $1 surcharge will be placed on concert tickets to establish a maintenance fund. The surcharge increases to $1.50 in 2020 and tops out at $2 a ticket in 2021.

The stadium currently lacks a maintenance fund.

“We have long aspired to have a maintenance fund with about $250,000 available for the big stuff if and when it happens,” Engen said. “This will go a long ways in building that maintenance fund.”

While Logjam announced the agreement last week, members of the City Council ratified the deal Wednesday morning. Members of the council praised the outcome, calling it a win-win for all parties.

“I want to thank Mr. Checota and Mr. Mayor for solving this problem by using the private sector and not going to the taxpayers to bail us out,” said council member Jesse Ramos. “I really appreciate the creative thinking and this is a creative way to solve the problem.”

Using Civic Stadium for concerts brings to four the number of venues available to Logjam. Checota has grown the company into one of the region’s largest promoters of entertainment, and he believes the stadium could draw larger acts to Missoula.

The Top Hat has room for 600 and The Wilma has a capacity of 1,500. The KettleHouse Amphitheater, which opened last year, has room for 4,500, though Civic Stadium can hold roughly 10,000.

“I anticipate three to five shows in the first year and four to six on a regular basis,” Checota said of the stadium. “The amphitheater is 4,500 people, so most of the shows appropriate for that venue – 5,000 or less – will go out there. Our goal in (Civic Stadium) would be to have it for the 7,000 to 10,000 range.”

While several council members expressed concerns over parking, both Checota and Matt Ellis, executive vice president of the Osprey, belayed their concerns.

Checota has successfully moved concert-goers to the amphitheater by shuttle and the Osprey have done the same for recent large shows, such as ZZ Top and Paul Simon.

“We’ve done a lot of work with the downtown community to promote people parking downtown and getting to the ballpark, and we’ve done shuttles when we get to 8,000 people,” Ellis said. “I’m sure Mr. Checota is going to want people parking downtown and going back downtown after the shows. There’s plenty of parking within walking distance of the stadium.”