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A commitment from the Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID) to increase its contribution to MetraPark will allow the facility to cover costs for hosting high school sports tournaments. The Montana High School Sports Association (MHSA) does not allow the usual improvement fee to be included in ticket prices for its high school sports events. The improvement fee goes to the facility's capital improvement fund and is charged by Metra Park for all other events.
"Recognizing the value of high school sport tournaments to the Billings economy, and the desire to continue to welcome this vital tenant to MetraPark and the community, the TBID board agreed to cover all capital improvement fees that are not collected through the contract between MetraPark and the Montana High School Association (MHSA)," said the TBID board in a press release.
The decision eliminates the need for a fundraising effort that had been launched by Big Sky Economic Development (BSED), along with volunteers of the MetraPark Advisory Board and the Billings Chamber of Commerce. The collaborative effort evolved under pressure from Yellowstone County Commissioners for BSED to back-fill Metra Park's losses in bidding on the sport events. Commissioners, most especially Jim Reno, said that to support economic development was the purpose of BSED.
The TBID Board, headed by Steve Warlich, said also in their press release, that they agree with the commissioners that the operations of MetraPark should be left to the commissioners and that there is a need to fund capital improvements. A couple of weeks ago representatives of the hospitality industry suggested to commissioners that they should increase concession prices to cover the capital improvement fees, and they appealed to the commissioners to turn the decisions regarding concession pricing over to staff.
In the past, the TBID board paid an average of $30,000 annually to fund operational costs in order to secure MHSA tournaments at the arena. Breaking down that investment, the TBID supplemented MetraPark's operational budget for tournaments by providing $5,000 per small tournament and $10,000 per large tournament. Additionally, the board funds hospitality rooms for each tournament's coaches and officials at an average of $10,000 per year, not inclusive of staff time invested and beyond their operational investment.
"Following extensive discussions and contemplation by the TBID board, the TBID's investment will now directly fund the capital improvement fees normally yielded from tournament ticket sales, resulting in an investment that is potentially larger than the $40,000 annual investment of previous years," the board said, adding that they feel such money is well spent supporting and nurturing the local economy. Some years, depending upon the size and number of tournaments awarded, the fees would have amounted to $90,000, according to previous reports from Metra Park.
MHSA tournaments, like the All Class State Wrestling Meet, bring nearly 30,000 spectators and participants to Billings every year. In figures from TBID, MetraPark's operational budget for each tournament netted between $9,312 and $25,508 in 2010, before indirect and direct overhead was factored in. Total, in 2010, all four MHSA tournaments netted $69,158 for MetraPark after the TBID's investment. Based on previous years' figures, the operational revenue for these events will still net $39,158 for the venue with the TBID's investment shifted to the capital improvement fee.
Yellowstone County Commissioners said they were pleased with the TBID decision. The comments were made during county budget hearings, which included a review of the BSED budget.
BSED officials are hoping that the commissioners are pleased enough to grant the county agency their full property tax levy of 3.05 mills. They did not receive their full mill levy last year, and BSED Comptroller Jim Tevlin pointed out that they needed it this year to balance a budget that is already being squeezed by the lack of tax protested revenues which are being withheld.
While final budget decisions will not come until September, it was apparent that the discussion on was more harmonious than it might have been earlier in the year. Commissioner Reno, was quite frank about it, saying, "Yesterday, we would have had a different conversation, but with TBID stepping forward, I am pleased."
Commissioner John Ostlund was also satisfied with the decision of the TBID board, pointing out that in testimony before the state legislature, when Billings' civic leaders were trying to get the TBID implemented, funding bids for high school sports tournaments was a "key" reason cited for its need.
Chamber of Commerce President John Brewer was also in attendance during the budget hearings, to support granting BSED their full levy. Brewer, too, said he was pleased that the TBID board had stepped up. He said that to have had two agencies engaged in tourism and convention promotion would be a wasteful "duplication of services."
The tournaments impact Billings' economy by no less than $4 million annually, said the TBID board. "Continuing the community's tradition of welcoming tournaments is beneficial to the economy, quality of life and the sustainability of the MetraPark operations overall.
The lodging industry in Billings is a benefactor of these tournaments, as are retailers, restaurants, gas stations, and the local and regional economy in general. The Billings TBID Board is proud to have taken a leadership role in resolving this significant challenge posed by the Yellowstone County commissioners."
The TBID was created in 2007 through the efforts of the Billings lodging community. The group is overseen by a board of directors consisting of seven variably sized hotel properties and is managed by the Billings Chamber of Commerce/Convention and Visitors Bureau. Marketing and promotional dollars are collected through a $1 assessment per hotel room per night stayed in the Billings community.
The Big Sky Business Journal
P.O. Box 3262
Billings, MT 59103