New city park $200K over budget, but wins funding contribution for public art

The new MRL Park will include a number of features, including railroad artifacts and public art. (City of Missoula image)

Despite a $200,000 cost overrun for a new city park, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency’s board of directors on Thursday agreed to contribute an additional $12,500 to contract the creation of public art for the area.

The contribution gives the city’s Public Art Committee a total of $25,000 to offer as a stipend to the chosen artist during a call for art, which is expected to go out later this year.

And that, said Courtney LeBlanc, will increase both the quantity and quality of the submissions.

“We’d love to see art go in there, but we’d also like to see our artists get paid,” said LeBlanc, chair of the art committee. “With $25,000, we can see an increase in artist submissions but also quality.”

After purchasing the property from Montana Rail Link for $2 million earlier this year, the city embarked on designing and building the park for $1.5 million. The park’s current price tag has reached $1.7 million, according to MRA.

Given the cost overrun, MRA didn’t recommend funding public art, though its board of directors opted to do so anyway during Thursday’s public meeting. Design materials and site remediation have helped add to the costs.

“Cleanup has impacted it some,” said MRA director Ellen Buchanan. “The conditions that Parks and Recreation wanted to see out there has impacted it in others. It has exceeded its budget by about $200,000.”

MRL Park is the second city park to hit a cost overrun this year. Back in May, the Missoula City Council begrudgingly approved spending an additional $188,000 to cover cost overruns and a fundraising shortfall for the Missoula Art Museum’s Downtown Art Park.

Together, the two parks have exceeded their budgets by nearly $400,000.

Still, MRA’s board of directors said the $12,500 contribution agreed to Thursday would help bring the first piece of public art to the Midtown district at MRL Park.

The remaining $12,500 was collected through the city’s 1.5 percent for art – a fee collected from all public works construction projects in Missoula.

“The Public Art Committee felt that $12,500 is considerably less than they typically put out with a call for art,” said Annette Marchesseault, a redevelopment specialist with MRA. “So they’ve requested an additional $12,500 to have a $25,000 stipend.”

While the park will also have other three-dimensional artifacts offered by Montana Rail Link to commemorate the site’s history, LeBlanc said that doesn’t count as art.

“Per the ordinance, we can’t consider those public art because they’re being repurposed by the architect, which doesn’t fall into the category for the percent for art,” said LeBlanc.

“When you think of Missoula parks, you definitely like to think of the uniqueness they have,” she added. “Art within our parks definitely gives them that something different, that something to talk about, and it sets them aside from the other parks you see across the country.”