City Lights: Oft-named MetraPark could be up for another change

2011-04-10T00:00:00Z 2011-04-11T16:34:45Z City Lights: Oft-named MetraPark could be up for another change

By ED KEMMICK

Of The Gazette Staff‌

The Billings Gazette
April 10, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Rimrock Auto Arena at Rimrock Auto Park, brought to you by the Rimrock Auto Group, located in the heart of Rimrock Auto County, formerly known as Yellowstone County.

That might sound far-fetched, but if the mania for selling “naming rights” to various buildings and public property doesn’t subside, we might see it yet.

Who would have believed, 20 or 30 years ago, that San Francisco's famed Candlestick Park would one day become 3Com Park ... until Monster Cable bought the naming rights and it became Monster Park ... until the Monster contract ended in 2008 and it became, again, Candlestick Park, all in less than 15 years?

The idea of changing the name of MetraPark to Rimrock Auto Park is being floated by Steve Zabawa, whose Rimrock Auto Group bought the naming rights to the building formerly known as the MetraPark Arena four years ago for $1 million, payable over 10 years.

His proposal now is to kick in an extra $15,000 a year to hang his company’s handle on the entire complex, making MetraPark the Rimrock Auto Park.

Less confusion?

Zabawa said it is too confusing to refer to the Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark. For a million bucks, he thinks he deserves less confusion, and he thinks the solution is Rimrock Auto Arena at Rimrock Auto Park.

You can’t fault him for wanting to maximize his investment, and you can’t fault county commissioners for considering the proposal, which they are scheduled to do on Monday. I don’t think I’m alone, though, in believing that “Rimrock Auto Park” hardly seems likely to lessen the confusion.

Auto park? Does that mean it’s a huge car dealership, a drag strip, a parking lot or a demolition derby?

But it’s also hard to feel much attachment to a name that is itself the product of several rather clumsy changes over the years. When the fairgrounds opened in 1918, the area was known as the Midland Empire Exposition.

That’s why the road through the fairgrounds is called Exposition Drive — and perhaps Zabawa should suggest a package deal, throwing in a few more thou a year to make it Rimrock Auto Drive.

Meanwhile, at some point the county apparently gave up its dreams of empire, and the fairgrounds formerly known as the Midland Empire Exposition became the Yellowstone Exhibition.

Then, when a new arena opened in 1975 on the grounds of the Yellowstone Exhibition, the building was christened Montana’s Entertainment Trade and Recreation Arena. It was known for a while as the METRA, since it was an acronym, but common usage soon demoted it to “the Metra.”

Yet another name

For years, the fair and the Metra were run by separate boards. When they combined in the mid-1980s, the Yellowstone Exhibition name was euthanized and MetraPark was born.

I’m not sure when the fad of mashing two words together and preserving the second capital letter began, but it is still with us. By a similar process, the fair held at MetraPark soon became MontanaFair.

The new name for the grounds ushered in a strange term for the building: “MetraPark Arena.” Purists objected, saying it was redundant to tack “arena” onto “Metra,” since the “a” in Metra stood for the same word, but there’s no stopping progress, or whatever it was.

And now we have the latest proposal for a name change. In support of his idea, Zabawa pointed to Dehler Park, the new ball field formerly known as Cobb Field. It acquired the new name when businessman Jon Dehler donated $1 million toward its construction.

Zabawa said everybody refers to the place as Dehler Park, proving that “Dehler’s getting his bang for his million dollars.”

The example doesn’t quite apply to the Rimrock Auto proposal, however. Dehler named the field in honor of his father, Bill, who once told The Gazette that “baseball was my entire life.”

If Dehler wanted bang for his bucks, he would have named the ballpark after his business, and we’d be stuck with Fleetwood Gaming Park, which falls as harshly on the ear as Rimrock Auto Park.

How about a compromise that strikes a grand note, might satisfy Zabawa and honors our history? I propose RimrockAuto Vehicle Emporium Arena at the RimrockAuto MetExpo ExhibitionGrounds.

Or, possibly, Montana’s Tornado Magnet at Rimrock Auto Acres.

Contact Ed Kemmick at ekemmick@billingsgazette.com or 657-1293.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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City Lights

Ed Kemmick's City Lights column ran every Sunday in The Billings Gazette from January 2000 to September 2012. This is an archive of Ed's column.

Ed Kemmick

I cover the city of Billings.

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