City Commissioners deny Voyagers rent forgiveness request

City Commissioners voted to deny forgiveness to the Great Falls Baseball Club, also known as the Voyagers, for their 2020 stadium rent of $10,648.

The Voyagers season was canceled due to COVID-19 but the club hosted community events, fundraisers and legion baseball games at Centene Stadium. The COVID-19 restrictions caused the club’s revenues to decline by about 90 percent, according to Scott Reasoner, club president.

Voyagers requesting stadium rent forgiveness for 2020

Mayor Bob Kelly said that the ballpark and baseball club are important for the community, but that he preferred to defer the rent payment rather than forgive it entirely.

He suggested deferring it over a period of 10 years with no interest, for roughly $1,000 annually.

Kelly said it was an opportunity to show the city’s support without losing revenue.

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Commissioner Rick Tryon agreed saying the city couldn’t help many other businesses, but could support the baseball club in this case.

“I just think the whole thing is the wrong message to start going down this road,” Tryon said.

Commissioner Owen Robinson said he was in favor of forgiving the rent as a message of support to the baseball club.

“I think having $1,000 for 10 years won’t make a tinkers damn difference,” Robinson said.

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Commissioner Mary Moe said that it was a wonderful gesture but was concerned about the door it would open to other entities under lease agreements with the city.

City Manager Greg Doyon said he couldn’t think of any other lessees that would be in a similar situation. The city has a number of lease agreements for city parkland and facilities, but Doyon and Park and Recreation Director Steve Herrig said none came to mind with similar circumstances that would need relief.

Commissioners voted to reject the request for rent forgiveness to allow Reasoner to go back to his board and discuss with city staff what favorable repayment terms would look like.

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Reasoner said he couldn’t say whether the club could accept the idea during the meeting since the club is owned by 140 shareholders and managed by a board of directors.

He said he hopes the club won’t be in a similar situation any time in the future and that they were uniquely affected, and only perhaps the Great Falls Symphony was affected the same way, in that COVID-19 rendered them “unable to operated in really any capacity.”

Reasoner said the conversation of rent forgiveness began with city staff after Missoula and Billings took similar action over the summer.

Staff had recommended approval of the rent forgiveness.

Reasoner is board chair of the Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, which has been vocal in its opposition of the city using downtown tax increment financing funds, which if the TIF district didn’t exist would be in the city’s general fund, for the repair of the Civic Center and have requested that the city use those funds for private development.

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Reasoner wrote in his letter to the city that the club maintained a full grounds staff for the legion games, and offered use of the stadium at a discounted rate for community groups and events.

The Voyagers are anticipating playing a 2021 season at the stadium.

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The city and the baseball club entered into a 50 year agreement in 1996 for Centene Stadium. The agreement requires an annual rent paid to the city on or before Nov. 1. The lease is on a fixed rent stepped increase, so the annual rent increased 10 percent every five years, according to the city. From 1999-2019, the club has made their annual rent payment, according to the city.