Butte-Silver Bow Chief Executive Matt Vincent on Thursday announced the largest single donation Montana Resources and the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation have made to Butte — $2.5 million to refurbish much of Stodden Park.
The news came from Vincent at the Stodden Park amphitheater in front of about 75 people.
“This is going to get the park back to where it was,” he told the audience.
Vincent will present the gift at the September 21 Council of Commissioners meeting. The commission must give approval for Vincent to accept the gift from MR and the foundation.
Work will likely begin on Stodden next spring, said Parks and Recreation director J. P. Gallagher.
The foundation and MR have given considerable sums recently, including $1 million toward the construction of Miner’s Field — the new American Legion/Minor League baseball complex at Copper Mountain Park — off South Montana Street in 2015. Last month the foundation and MR gave $300,000 to the Butte’s YMCA to enable sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders free access to the Y’s pool and other amenities.
While the foundation and MR generally average around $300,000 in donations to various organizations in recent years, the Dennis Washington concerns gave about $1.3 million to Butte in 2015. In the first half of 2016, they had already given $387,520. This donation will make their largess to Butte close to $3 million for this year.
The foundation’s executive director Mike Halligan called the donation to Stodden Park upgrades “an investment” in the Mining City rather than “a gift.”
“We’re in it for the long term,” Halligan said from the podium. “We’ve been here 30 years, and we want to be here 30 years more.”
Halligan told the Standard after the formal announcement that donations toward capital projects are outside the foundation’s normal mission and scope. But he said MR saw the partnerships involved in the project and felt it was worth investing in because of its ability to unify Butte.
“No other community has the can-do spirit of Butte. We respect that and wanted to celebrate it,” Halligan said.
The money will partially go toward renovating and relocating the former Columbia Gardens arch to Stodden Park, where it will serve as a gateway into a corridor called Central Park. The corridor will contain gardens and signs telling the history of the old Columbia Gardens amusement park, which got absorbed in the expansion of copper mining as the Berkeley Pit grew in the early 1970s.
On either side of the Central Park corridor will be a new water park and a carousel. The county raised the money for the water park through a $7.2-million public bond and $1.5 million in public and private funds. The carousel is going up thanks to fundraising efforts from a nonprofit called the Spirit of Columbia Gardens Carousel Foundation.
The grant from MR and the foundation will pay for the tennis courts to be completely redone and include lighting. On the northwest corner of the park, a kids adventure playground will be built. Picnic shelters and gazebos also are planned.
This will add to the $400,000 spent in recent years on improving the softball and baseball fields at the park. Chuck Merrifield, Butte High School athletic director, talked about how important a revitalized and improved Stodden Park will be to students and the children of Butte.
“The memories will be special to our kids,” Merrifield said.
Vincent described the refurbished Stodden Park as living up to the original vision to make it an unofficial remembrance of the Columbia Gardens.
“The hope was always to bring Columbia Gardens back,” Vincent told the Standard. “People really haven’t given up on that hope.”
Vincent called the former Columbia Gardens “the envy of the Northwest” and said the revitalized Stodden Park will be “the number-one city park for all Montana.”
Pam Haxby-Cote, executive director for Butte Local Development Corp., stressed the importance of this project to Butte’s overall quality of life and economic health.
“It will enhance property values and attract businesses and workers,” Haxby-Cote said.
MR president Rolin Erickson talked about the park’s importance by telling a story about himself. When he was a student at Montana Tech 34 years ago, he and a fellow student were sitting on the third-floor deck of a building at Tech and noticed a green spot in the distance below.
“He said, ‘What’s that?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know. I think it’s a golf course.’ So we said, ‘Let’s go give it a try.’ We set our gin and tonics aside.”
The pair found beer in a concession at the course and began to play a round. Erickson said he “got hooked” on golf and joked that it almost ended his college career.
“Nothing’s changed since then. It’s time for a facelift,” Erickson said.