County approves beer price increase at MetraPark

2014-04-01T10:30:00Z 2014-04-08T12:25:04Z County approves beer price increase at MetraParkBy CLAIR JOHNSON cjohnson@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

The price of beer sold at MetraPark events will increase by $1 to help raise money to co-promote events.

MetraPark management also will have the authority to set prices on all concessions, such as hot dogs and sodas. Previously, the county commission made those decisions.

Yellowstone County commissioners Tuesday approved the price increase and concession authority for MetraPark by a vote of 2-1, with Commissioners John Ostlund and Bill Kennedy backing the plan.

Commission Chairman Jim Reno voted no, saying that making MetraPark unaffordable for families is “wrong.”

The old price for beer was $4 for a draft cup and $5 for an aluminum bottle.

Ostlund moved to approve a recommendation from the MetraPark Advisory Board to increase the beer price and agreed to an amendment by Kennedy to give MetraPark management authority over concession pricing.

Brian Cebull, advisory board president, said the board believes that creating a co-promotion fund with beer sale proceeds will help MetraPark attract "bigger and better acts."

Getting those bigger acts "requires money," Cebull said.

Ostlund, the commission's liaison to MetraPark, agreed. The co-promotion fund, he said, will do what most people want, which is to book more concerts. "I see no reason to wait," he said.

Kennedy backed the co-promotion idea and went further by proposing giving MetraPark's management authority to set concession prices. He called the concession pricing the "first step" toward returning more authority to MetraPark's manager and the advisory board. 

MetraPark has been criticized for not booking bigger-name concerts while major performers have played in Bozeman and Missoula. The commissioners recently agreed to try co-promoting events, which means taking a financial risk. The county's policy has been to avoid those risks by renting the arena to outside promoters. MetraPark receives about 39 percent of its funding from property taxpayers.

Reno, who opposed charging $5 for the aluminum bottles in 2012, again opposed increasing beer prices.

Reading a prepared statement, Reno said MetraPark is "serving the needs of this community quite well" if measured by trade shows, rodeos, MontanaFair, high school tournaments and other events, including indoor football, which is returning to MetraPark.

MetraPark could do better, Reno said. "For those who measure success by the number of sold-out concerts, I hear you," he said. But MetraPark's success "must not be measured solely on concerts," he said.

Instead, Reno urged those who benefit financially from sold-out concerts to "step up."

"Making MetraPark unaffordable to bring your family to is wrong and I won't support the request to raise beer prices. Those of us who were brought into this world with limited means must not forget our roots," he said.

Half of the money from the $1 increase on beer will go to a new fund to help MetraPark co-promote events to attract bigger entertainment acts and concerts to the grounds. Co-promoting means MetraPark would take some of the financial risk along with an outside promoter on events.

The other half of the $1 increase will be divided according to MetraPark’s contract with its beer vendors, who are the Breakfast and Downtown Exchange clubs. MetraPark will get 30 percent, or 15 cents per cup, and the service clubs will get the rest.

The Breakfast Exchange Club, which sells beer in the Rimrock Auto Arena, said it will help the co-promotion fund with a $5,000 donation. The service club donates all of its beer sale proceeds to child abuse prevention and other service projects.

The last time MetraPark increased beer prices was in 2008. Since then, Cebull said, vendor expenses for the service clubs have increased 28 percent.

A survey of arenas in North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming showed beer prices ranged from $5 to $6.50, Cebull said.

In another MetraPark matter, the commissioners approved sending a thank-you letter to the Billings Tourism Improvement District for its contribution to the capital improvement fund in bids for the 2016 State AA basketball and all-class wrestling tournaments. 

For MetraPark’s latest bids, the district agreed to contribute about $40,200. The donation includes up to $15,000 to recoup capital improvement fees for each tournament and about $10,200 in total hospitality expenses.

The district has given MetraPark a little more than $205,000 for Montana High School Association wresting and basketball tournaments from 2010 to 2014, said Steve Wahrlich, a district board member.

About $170,000 of the $205,000 went to offset MetraPark’s operating costs or to its capital improvement fund, while the remainder was for hospitality, which pays for meals and snacks for tournament officials, Wahrlich said.

The district raises money to promote and market Billings through a fee of $1 to $2 per unit on 42 hotels within the district.

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