An owner of the Rimrock Auto Group said the car dealership wants to rename MetraPark because media outlets don’t call the arena by its official name.
Rimrock Auto Group co-owner John Soares told Yellowstone County commissioners on Monday that The Billings Gazette and other media outlets keep referring to the arena as the MetraPark arena and don’t call it the Rimrock Auto Arena, its official name.
A search of The Gazette’s website shows that the paper has referenced the arena by its official name more than 1,500 times since it was renamed in March 2008, including in many headlines. In some cases, the paper calls it the “arena” or “MetraPark arena” in headlines, but then calls it the Rimrock Auto Arena in the bodies of stories. The phrase “MetraPark arena” has been used 102 times during that period.
In 2008, the business agreed to pay $1 million over 10 years for naming rights on the arena. Adding $15,000 a year to that deal would net the county another $120,000 through 2018.
Soares recently offered the county $15,000 a year to rename the entire county-owned park the Rimrock Auto Park.
“Maybe $15,000 (a year) was a bit ridiculous,” Soares said during the commissioners’ discussion meeting. “I was just trying to figure out a way where people stop calling it the MetraPark arena.”
As Soares sat down, an audience member suggested that the county could clear up further confusion by canceling its contract with Rimrock Auto Group.
“I wouldn’t be against that, either,” Soares said.
The commissioners didn’t comment on the proposal, other than to say that they will discuss and vote on it on at their regular meeting on April 26.
About a dozen people attended the meeting, so the commissioners decided to hold an informal public hearing on the matter. Of the handful of people who spoke, only Soares spoke in favor of the proposal.
Others said the park’s name shouldn’t be changed, owing to its long history and its name recognition throughout the state.
“I’m really here in defense of the will of the people of Yellowstone County,” Maurice Deverill said. “The voter taxpayers are the ones to be thanked time after time for making this facility possible.”
More money needed
Ken Fichtner, owner of Fichtner Chevrolet in Laurel and president of the MetraPark Advisory Board, said he had heard from all members of the board, and no one wanted to change the park’s name. He said that, if the county needs more money to support MetraPark, the entire park should be appraised and sold off instead of taking a small offering from Rimrock Auto Group.
“That facility belongs to everyone in this room. We are all taxpayers; we are all stock owners in that corporation,” Fichtner said. “It’s an insult for $15,000.”
Mark Higgins, the owner of a medical marijuana business called Montannabis, offered to write a check at the meeting for $15,001 “to not name it Rimrock Auto Park.” Higgins has feuded with the other owner of Rimrock Auto Group, Steve Zabawa, over Zabawa’s vocal opposition to medical marijuana.
“We could name it Montannabis Park,” Higgins said. “I own a business, too.”
The commissioners also had a stack of about 50 emails and phone messages from people opposed to the name change.