If the Billings City Council approves a proposed agreement with the Billings Mustangs, baseball fans can look forward to fireworks, a zip line and possibly other amenities at Dehler Park.
The Billings Parks, Recreation and Cemetery Board has endorsed, with a few recommended changes, a 10-year agreement between the city and the Mustangs to continue baseball at Dehler Park for the next decade.
Under the agreement, the fan experience at the ballpark can be enhanced in the coming months by activities and facilities paid for by the ballclub. That could include a glassed-in great room constructed above the concession area along the third-base line.
The vote during Wednesday’s special meeting was 5-1, with board member Cathy Grott casting the opposing vote. She said she didn’t “have a good sense of the value” of what the city is giving up to the ball club as a result of the agreement.
Voting in favor of the agreement were Board Chair Rick DeVore and members Dayton Rush, Rich Lorenz, Mark Wahl and Francis Morris.
City Administrator Tina Volek said the ball club wants to have the agreement in hand before baseball’s winter meetings begin Dec. 4.
The agreement doubles the club’s annual rent, from $30,000 to $60,000, and spells out how maintenance and capital improvements will be paid for.
The club will retain some maintenance duties, including turf management. Mustangs General Manager Gary Roller said the Dehler Park turf is in better shape now than when it was installed eight seasons ago.
A fund to pay for capital improvements including turf replacement now holds more than $400,000, Volek said.
The agreement also allows the club to construct or offer a number of family friendly ballpark amenities, including a zip line and fireworks displays. Those will be offered at club expense.
In previous years, “we have had low-level (fireworks) displays,” Roller said, “but nothing you would consider a show.”
Volek told the board the aim of the new agreement is twofold.
The first, she said, is to “ensure that Dehler Park has sustainable support, a way for improvements to be made so that the ballpark is a credit to the city, and to limit public expense as much as possible.”
The second goal was to forge an agreement under what she called “the changing circumstances” of out-of-town ownership. Dave Heller and Bob Herrfeldt of Main Street Baseball own the Mustangs and other minor league teams.
With out-of-state ownership, “we are on a different playing field,” Volek noted.
While the Dehler Park name will remain through 2032, the new agreement allows the ballclub to sell naming rights to the field itself, similar to how the School District 2 football facility at Billings Senior High School is known as Wendy’s Field at Daylis Stadium.
“The new owners are looking for additional sources of revenue,” Volek said, “and this is one. It could be a significant source of revenue.”
Grott said the city “owes taxpayers at least a consideration of the revenues we are giving up.” Taxpayers will be paying off the bonds to construct Dehler Park for the next decade, Volek said.
After 2032, the club can, with the concurrence of the city, sell the naming rights to the park itself. If the club sells those rights, the city will receive 15 percent of the proceeds.
In 2007, the city sold the naming rights to Dehler Park for $1 million over 25 years. Mustangs officials told Volek during the process of forging the current agreement that they believe the city “was underpaid” for the naming rights, she said.
The city also gets 15 “priority dates” under the agreement to schedule non-baseball activities, such as concerts. Volek said city officials will probably schedule those events in blocks of two or three days in order to allow for set-up and tear-down. Both the ballclub and the city must agree on the dates.
Volek called the proposal “the document that will carry us forward with the Mustangs” and any possible successor ownership groups.
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