Contributions from TBID revenue to support Metra Park’s CIP fund, which is aimed at maintaining the county-owned facility, have reached $436,000 since 2009, when Visit Billings started helping to draw state high school events by paying the per seat fee Metra requires of all ticket sales.

Metra Park officials lauded the efforts of Visit Billings during the monthly meeting of the Metra Park Advisory Board recently. Details of the past nine years of support, as compiled by Visit Billings, were distributed to board members.

“It’s a great, great partnership,” said Metra Park Manager Bill Dutcher, “Alex Tyson and her board are very active and great partners. They have backed us up in our bids in every tournament that MHSA doesn’t pay, and for our wrestling tournament.” In doing so, the people who attend those events in Billings help to fill the hotels and motels and generate business for the community’s restaurants, retail stores and gas stations. 

That is largely what the TBID (Tourism Business Improvement District) was created to do. Within the Billings TBID, motels and hotels charge a $2 fee per night, for each room rental, to help fund the promotion of the community to visitors and to cultivate the tourism and hospitality industry. When the legislature approved the enabling legislation for TBID’s, Billings advocates pointed primarily to the need to help support events at Metra Park as a reason the funding source was needed. Most communities in the state have taken advantage of the program and have their own TBID. Visit Billings is the organization which administers the program in Billings, which operates under the auspices of the Billings Chamber of Commerce.

Dutcher said that Metra Park most recently submitted bids of what they will pay to MHSA (Montana High School Association) for 2021 high school events, and have already received commitments from Visit Billings that they will back up those bids by covering the CIP fees. So far, in 2019, Visit Billings has contributed almost $30,000 in CIP funds to support MHSA events – All State Wrestling, and Class C Boy’s State Basketball Tournaments.

Such support was essential to gain some of those high school events when Metra Park adopted the policy that every ticket sold for any kind of event had to include a CIP fee, so as to build a fund to maintain the facility. Metra Park had historically had no such revenue structure, and at one time faced a serious backlog of maintenance issues that threatened to close the facility, unless they changed their pricing structure and policies.

The Montana High School Association, however, has a policy that they will not pay for the cost of using a facility, and Billings faced the prospect of losing some events to other communities should they insist that the fee be paid. It was then that Visit Billings stepped forward to pay the CIP fees based upon attendance.

But their support does not end there. Visit Billings has played a role in supporting a wide variety of events at Metra Park. TBID funds have been used to provide rental assistance to organizations like Jehovah’s Witness Watchtower, concerts such as the Eagles and Garth Brooks, Big Sky Vollefest, Sustainable Living Expo, Montana Stockgrower’s Association Convention, hockey tournaments, Women of Faith, Antique Roadshow, and many others.

The $435,704 grand total in TBID funds does not include indirect support of other events that are held at Metra Park such as funds that are paid directly to groups and organizations such as NILE, Rescued and Reclaimed, Chase Hawks, Border War Basketball, MACK Productions and Montana Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame.

It also does not include the significant investment by TBID to bring the NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball Championships to Billings for four years, which includes rental paid to Metra which ranged from $65,000 to $72,500 each year.

TBID paid the Breakfast Exchange Club $22,000 in 2015 in order to help offset alcohol price point demands by the BMW MOA. They also paid BMW MOA $20,000 as an incentive to be used as part of hosting the rally on Metra Park grounds.

And, quite often during the high school sport events and other occasions, Visit Billings provides hospitality to visiting groups.