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County seeks public input as it weighs bringing arena football back to MetraPark
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County seeks public input as it weighs bringing arena football back to MetraPark

Yellowstone County Commissioners will wait a week before voting on whether to approve a contract that would bring arena football back to Billings

Originally, commissioners were set to vote on the contract Tuesday morning. But during a discussion meeting Monday afternoon, Commissioner Denis Pitman expressed his desire to wait a week after having spent the weekend reading through the contract.

"It just seemed to be a lot different to how we do things," he said. 

MetraPark currently is in the midst of a redesign, with a new draft master plan being created to reimagine what the county's event and entertainment venue could be. A significant part of that process involves seeking various forms of feedback from the community on the various drafts of the plan. 

In each potential plan to update MetraPark, the First Interstate Arena — where the football games would be played — remains mostly untouched.

Commissioner John Ostlund pointed that out, noting that the county was probably safe moving ahead with event plans for the arena even as public engagement on plans for the rest of MetraPark continues. 

"I don't know if I see the correlation," he said.

Still, Pitman said he wants the feedback, particularly as the community will be weighing in this spring on what a newly imagined MetraPark would look like. 

Commissioner Don Jones, who's serving as chairman of the commissioners this year, was absent from the meeting. 

Pitman brought up a number of questions about the contract, wanting to know if the county was getting the best deal in the potential agreement. Pick Six Entertainment is the ownership group negotiating with Metra. 

In the deal, an indoor football team would begin playing in Billings in 2022 at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark. Keith Russ, a managing partner of the ownership group and the owner/head coach of the Wyoming Mustangs, who play in Gillette, confirmed the deal on Friday.

This will be Billings' first indoor football team since the Billings Wolves, who played in 2015 and 2016; Metra was their home stadium.

Billings also had an indoor team from 2000 to 2010 that was mainly named the Outlaws, although it went by the Thunderbolts in 2000 and the Mavericks in 2005. The Outlaws won league titles in 2006, 2009 and 2010. The team disbanded in 2010 after failing to negotiate a new deal with the county. 

Regarding the new contract, Pitman wanted to know why Pick Six was getting a discounted rate on the fee Metra usually charges for daily arena use. 

Ray Massey, MetraPark's director of marketing and sales, explained that it was common practice for Metra to give discounts to organizations that entered into multi-year agreements to use facilities at the park. MetraPark had extended the same deal to the Wolves organization. 

Pitman also wanted to know how regularly scheduled games at the arena might impact Metra's ability to bring in other high-profile events and concerts. 

Massey explained the contract includes a 40-day right to move clause, which gives Metra the ability to move a previously scheduled football game up to 40 days before it is scheduled. 

It also stipulates that Pick Six provide the turf on which its team would play and require Pick Six to store the turf off-site once the season ends. 

Ostlund was upbeat about arena football returning to Metra, calling it a steady revenue generator. Seasonal sports brings a lot of people to MetraPark and they buy a lot of food and beer when they're there, he said.

The Wolves season averaged 2,500 people per game and generated a solid amount of revenue for the county, Massey said. 

"It's low-impact, high rate of return," Ostlund said.

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