Gazette opinion: MontanaFair offers 9 days of fun on a budget

2014-08-04T00:00:00Z 2014-08-04T10:12:04Z Gazette opinion: MontanaFair offers 9 days of fun on a budget The Billings Gazette
August 04, 2014 12:00 am

Carnival, music, comedians, super cross, rodeo, a Habitat for Humanity house under construction and lemur races under the trees. There’s nothing else like the eclectic mix of spectacle and entertainment that is MontanaFair.

“Exciting, fun, safe and clean. Those are the basic values you strive for,” MetraPark general manager Bill Dutcher said last week on a tour of the fairgrounds.

MetraPark management also strives to run a good business, and MontanaFair is the biggest business venture of the year.

It runs on a $5.5 million annual budget approved by the Yellowstone County Commission. Thirty percent of that budget comes from county taxes; the rest must be covered with revenues generated by MetraPark.

This year’s fair budget is $1.45 million, which is $50,000 more than last year because spending on night show talent was increased, Dutcher said.

The 2013 MontanaFair was a smashing success. It hit record highs for revenue on food, beverages, night show tickets and the carnival. MetraPark spent $1.4 million to put on that fair, and earned $2 million. Fair revenue covered about 36 percent of the annual budget.

Aiming for a repeat performance, Dutcher’s team booked all-new acts for the free-with-admission entertainment on the grounds.

But management didn’t raise admission and advance ticket prices. Advance admissions are still $4 and the $55 value pass proved so popular last year that Dutcher didn’t change it.

Concert outlook

With the sold-out success of Tim McGraw’s concert last week, MetraPark’s new marketing director is working to get more big-name concerts booked. Ray Massie said he’s looking to have 10-12 big concerts in the coming year and expects there will be announcements as early as this month. He wouldn’t give hints about who may be heading to MetraPark, but said the line up will include country, pop and rock artists.

Much as many of us want to see more concerts with star power, MontanaFair reminds us that big stars aren’t the only attraction at the county-owned facility. The fair showcases local stars — 4-H’ers, FFA members, dance students, artists, quilters and barbecue chefs.

Dutcher and his team found the right recipe last year for pleasing crowds and generating a return on the county’s MontanaFair investment. May this year’s fair prove as popular.

We look forward to seeing more big-name musical artists soon. But first, let’s check out the fair that will draw thousands of people to Billings this weekend and next week.at

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