Butte has Naranche, why can’t we have Mitchell Stadium?

Call it the new venue, improved players or a fairly new coaching staff finally able to implement their pass happy offensive style effectively, but Butte High football has turned it around.

But if you were asking this guy, I’d say that stadium has a lot to do with it.

Beginning play last year, Butte High is now 10-1 in their refurbished Naranche Stadium, set to the north of their high school in uptown Butte.

And last week’s dramatic 37-36 win in overtime was just the topping on an already tasty cake for Bulldog faithful.

Crammed with fans set no more than seven yards off the field, the place is loud. It’s unlike anything teams in Montana have to deal with on a regular basis.

Even with the game getting changed from Friday night to Saturday afternoon due to some sketchy driving conditions from Great Falls, the crowd was indeed a factor.

I went over for two reasons: 1) to watch former Anaconda High student athlete Dallas Cook, a junior quarterback, play for the Bulldogs and 2) see what all the buzz about Naranche is.

Both were as good, no, great as advertised.

Cook’s transformation from a skittish, unsure freshman backup quarterback behind Kyle Moore to a confident, leader in the fast-paced, spread passing offense is remarkable.

In a game where the field surface wasn’t exactly what you would call ideal, playing on a mix of frozen grass, gravel, ice and packed snow, Cook completed 21-of-30 passes for 236 yards and a touch down.

Even when the Rustlers dropped eight into coverage, Cook pulled it down and toted the rock for 130 yards and four TDs on 20 carries to make up for the lack of yards passing.

I spoke with Cook afterwards, a young man I built a bit of a rapport with during his one year at AHS, and told him it was one of the most clutch performances I’ve witnessed.

But I don’t know if it could’ve been as special seeing the game at Bulldog Memorial.

Naranche just has a feel of football. It combines subtleties from Washington Grizzly Stadium in Missoula at Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman, but was also careful not to ruin the unique backdrop of the old, rundown, industrialized buildings of uptown Butte.

When driving by, it doesn’t seem like much. It’s surface is set below the street level, which probably added another drop in temperature from the near-zero degree day Saturday. But once you’re standing at field level, it really is a magical place.

Could any team come in there and win wearing the Purple and White, no. But having a place like that to call home, I can tell you right now little boys in Butte are dreaming of wearing the big “B” on the side of their helmets these day instead of the intertwined BC — something that hasn’t happened for a long time on the Hill.


Why not us

The Department of Revenue can tuck and roll from the top of Mount Haggin for all I care. That statement rings even more true now after I’ve witnessed Naranche Stadium first hand.

You see, Naranche too was built using Tax Increment Finance District monies in order to update the venerable stadium and school grounds while also doubling to stabilize the uptown economy, to the tune of about $5 million. But when School District 10 in Anaconda wanted to do the same, which would’ve encompassed a football and track and field facility as well, rotten politicians and the DOR stepped in and tried their best to stop it.

Once the issue went to court, several documents and even lawyers for the state went on to say how irresponsible it was to sink money into a football stadium.

Tell that to Bulldog fans.

Saturday’s attendance wasn’t announced, but I’m sure it was around 2,000 to 2,500 — most of whom found a place to eat or drink in uptown Butte afterwards.

Will the total amount of the money ever be recouped? Probably not. But who can put a price tag on a school investing in the students’ welfare outside of the classroom as well?

I’ve always said sports is an extension of the classroom. And just ask Bob Orrino or Shawn Hansen after their own successful football season, winning on the field of play not only increases the well being of the student body, but overall behavior as well.

Talk to anyone associated with Community Hospital of Anaconda when a prospective doctor or nurse thinks of taking a job here. The first place they tour is the school and its facilities.

What speaks more volumes than an investment into their students like what Butte High did with Naranche.

I spoke with John Thatcher and Bill Foley at the football game and told them how lucky they were to be able to watch a game at Naranche. I made it a point to speak with Butte High athletic director Chuck Merrifield and tell him what a grand place he had.

I can’t wait until someone says the same to me at Mitchell Stadium.

10 thoughts on “Butte has Naranche, why can’t we have Mitchell Stadium?

  1. Nice article man very nicely put. I have to agree that when someone new comes into a town the school is the first place they look and if their kid is an athlete well they will look at what that school has to offer. Naranche is a stadium like no other. State this weekend in Butte will be one to remember. Don’t bring a bird to a dog fight!!!

  2. Blake,

    It is true that the Butte Urban Revitalization Agency (URA) is funded through a TIFD. The main problem for us here in Anaconda is that Naranche Stadium is actually IN the Butte URA District (the TIF District). As I understand it, TIFDs can only use their money to fund capital improvement projects that are within the district. In Anaconda, Mitchell Stadium is way outside the Mill Creek TIFD (The one with $$).

    Secondly, if I understand the articles in the Montana Standard, the Naranche upgrade was only to cost about half of the projected cost of the Mitchell Stadium upgrade, with the TIFD only paying a little more than 10% of that cost: “Bentley Construction, Walsh Construction and Hollow Contracting have had a hand in the Naranche upgrades. The project, with a total price tag of $2.65 million over three phases of construction, is expected to be completed this fall in time for football season…..The Butte Urban Revitalization Agency pitched in $350,000 toward the renovation of Naranche.” 2/6/11 Montana Standard.

    You make it sound like Butte rebuilt Naranche so easily. Nope, not even close. By 1973, several sections of the old Naranche Stadium were worn down and practically destroyed; Butte High football moved to East Middle School for varsity home games for the next 37 years. After years of debate, fund-raising and legal wrangling, Butte finally began refurbishing Naranche in 2009. Butte also has a much bigger tax base (at least 5 times bigger) than Anaconda, and a population four times greater. Sure, they may be able to afford a $2.65 million stadium upgrade. That doesn’t automatically mean Anaconda can afford a $5 million dollar stadium upgrade.

    Finally, it has to be said: equating Butte High’s great football season mainly with a rebuilt stadium is bull. As you know, our Copperhead boys also turned in quite a year, even though they had to play in old run-down Mitchell Stadium. I don’t doubt for a second that the new stadium helps, but you are blowing it way out of proportion.

    I for one want to see the taxpayers vote on this one. I am confident that they will do the right thing. In fact, however the vote turns out WILL be the right thing, by definition. Us taxpayers did vote a levy for Head Start, first one in the USA. Why wouldn’t we levy money for a stadium? Trust the voters Blake, they pay the taxes, and they should get to decide. (BTW Blake, do you own any property in good ole Anaconda? If not, why you should simmer down a bit on hiking the rest of our property taxes…)

    Fast Eddie Smith

    • 1. The URA is a fancy name for the uptown TIF in Butte. And yes, it was built in the district where the TIF was designed, however the Mill Creek TIFID wasn’t set up that way. In fact, the Mill Creek generation station wouldn’t have even been built if the school was not brought into the mix. Now, I do believe money should absolutely stay in the district for infrastructure improvements and in order to entice businesses to built there. In Anaconda, it’s not a capital improvement to renovate Mitchell Stadium. It’s money used to rebuild it’s infrastructure, including its buildings and grounds. How does that differ from Naranche, by the way?
      2. Who cares what it costs. If you think for a second Butte kids deserve more than Anaconda kids in terms of education and extra curricular opportunities, you’ve fallen down far too many times in Goosetown. Both economies have been hard hit by population demise and a stagnant economy, this much is true. But Mitchell Stadium is far too historic to see go to waste as well. It was build with WPA money when Anaconda was struggling through the Depression. That project put local families to work in a time of great turmoil. No amount of money proposed to bring it back from the dead should ever be questioned. That stadium means more than just football games and track and field meets to Anaconda … It’s a part of our history.
      3. The rebuild to Mitchell Stadium wouldn’t cost the taxpayers a thing. It comes from Mill Creek TIFID revenue. And yes, it’s true the school board decided to put the stadium bond to a vote with the intentions of telling people there would be mills associated with the rebuild, however those mills were guaranteed not to cost the taxpayers money. Those funds for the renovation would come out of the school’s flexibility fund, which is built up by using the TIFID revenues of about 1.2 million every year. (BTW Fast Eddie, I shouldn’t need to own property in Anaconda to know the cost of zero dollars to the taxpayers will raise anyone’s property taxes zero dollars. I guess I did pay attention in accounting.)

  3. Blake,

    Thanks a ton for answering. I really appreciate this web site: it’s great to have a place to talk about these issues!

    I agree with some of your response. However, my fear is that once we commit $5 million to a big stadium upgrade, the taxpayers are effectively ‘at risk’ through the school district.

    Whether we like them bureaucrats in Helena or not, we gotta admit that we have already run into two big problems:

    1. The Board of Investments refused to accept the TIFD money as a valid source of repayment, and won’t loan us the money to rebuild Mitchell based on it. This means that even if the TIFD money is freed up to be used by the school district as it sees fit, there is no way to borrow the $5 million to pay for the upgrades. I suppose they could open a savings account, and then in about five years, after enough TIFD money is saved, they could then upgrade.

    2. The Dept. Of Revenuers have sued, claiming its illegal for the school district to use the money this way. If the State boys win this suit, we won’t be allowed to use the TIFD money, like it or not.

    Even if the State backs down from their position, and dismisses their lawsuit, I don’t see how the District isn’t at risk. What happens if somehow the money is borrowed, and some disgruntled taxpayer (like NW Energy, who has a history of tax litigation) sues and claims that their taxes should be lower, considering that TIFD money can only be spent within the TIFD district, and money not used there has to be applied against the general tax rates. ANY disgruntled taxpayer could do this, and the result could be that if a court agrees, and the debt has already been incurred, taxpayers could be forced to repay the $5 million in borrowed money that was spent on stadium upgrades. Guaranteeing a big loan is no light thing: I know several people who signed onto guarantee their kid’s student loans, and got stuck making payments when junior didn’t.

    Sure, its very possible that a nice fixed up Mitchell Stadium can be built without higher tax payer costs than we are paying now. But remember: but for the TIFD, we’d be paying LOWER taxes. That Gates Plant money could have effectively saved us all 10% to 15% on our taxes. On my house alone, I pay over $2,000 per year. A fifteen percent drop would have saved me $300 bucks a year….You can’t pretend that the money being spent isn’t still effectively our tax money. I still say let’s vote on it. I think the majority will approve it.

    Keep on swinging at it Blake!

    Fast Eddie.

    • The DOR attacked Anaconda because those “State Boys” have a dirtbag in town. He didn’t want “His” TIFID money funding a football stadium. See that’s the problem here. You get one politician who doesn’t like the process of decision making in government, except when it benefits them, they try to undermine the system. The stadium issue was brought before the public for a year before the DOR got involved saying SD10 was using the money illegally and against what Flex Funds were designed to do. Although, more than 10 school districts around the state use TIF funds — some not located in the TIF District such as Anaconda — were not told they had to cease their plans.

      The Board of Investments didn’t take want to bear the burden if Anaconda was unable to pay back the loan, that was their decision — and honestly it was a decision that any bank would’ve made as well. True, the money is not guaranteed, but if it were at risk at all, the DOR would’ve pulled the rug and not backed out of the lawsuit they brought to ALDC and SD10.

      It’s great you’re getting all up in arms over this now when SD10 proposed the renovation of Mitchell Stadium and the use of that money last summer. All the board meeting were public and I was at the majority of them. Not many people showed up — which to me and all the trustees that nobody was in disagreement of what they were proposing. Only now you want to argue with it.

      You can crunch all the numbers you want, but no matter what happens, the tax increment generated by the Dave Gates Generation Station would never have been possible if not from a joint effort by county and school officials coming on board.

      And I’m not getting into a long, drawn out argument about this, it’s just makes me upset on how the DOR can pull this garbage in a town that has been through enough. I’m just trying to do what’s best for our community and schools.

  4. I’m NOT against the stadium. I think I would actually vote for it. I just think we oughta get a vote on it.

    Sure, there were school board meetings. Why don’t you Leader guys publish the agenda before each meeting so we could decide to skip bowling and go? I don’t remember hearing about no public hearings with options for people to weigh in on. They shoulda just gone forward with calling for a public vote. Call me a radical, but I support democracy. Put the facts out there, and let people speak their piece. Then have a fair vote. It’s awful hard for the State boys to argue with us if we voted it in.

    I guess I missed something on the Gates plant. How did the school help with that? NW Energy picked here cause there are 2 different substations right there, and a big gas line. The old smelter infrastructure was just what they needed. What did the school have to do with it? Not that it matters, really.

    And while I sure do appreciate that you are saying what you think is best for Anaconda, don’t think that even the naysayers don’t also have the town’s best interest at heart. We DO have high taxes here, and whats to say that a 15% property tax drop might not help bring in more businesses and jobs, or keep a few of those old businesses open.

    BTW, who is it with the State that’s targeting the stadium? That oughta be news…

    Tap ‘er light Blake!

    Fast Eddie.

    • By law, every school board meeting or county meeting must be published in the local newspaper 48 hours in advance. And believe me, they have all been in there. And you should skip bowling and go … that’s why the USBC grants make-up games!

  5. Hey Blake,

    I know the meeting date and time is published. But without knowing what they are talking about (the agenda, I guess its called), and it being something I care about, I ain’t missin my 10 pin.

    How can you stand sitting through those meetings? It’s been a while for me, but I HATE those damn things. They seem like they talk in secret code, and half of what goes on goes right over my head. I also sat through a commission meeting that took three hours. I admit my brewskies never tasted better than after listening to all the BS I heard that night…If you have to go to them things for yer job, Dean oughta give you a raise!

    Fast Eddie…

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