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Billings MetraPark proposed renovations include enclosed arena, athletic stadium

Posted at 10:06 AM, Jun 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-17 12:06:36-04

BILLINGS — A master plan for redeveloping most of the facilities at MetraPark in Billings was revealed to the public Monday with three different proposals to replace the grandstands and livestock barns on the south of the property.

All three plans include 17 separate projects. The differences are what type of facility will replace the aging grandstands and livestock barns.

The different facilities include either an enclosed arena and amphitheater, grandstand and athletic stadium, or enclosed arena and amphitheater/stadium hybrid. All three plans include expanding the current Exposition Center to accommodate larger events.

Charles D. Smith was the architect who drafted the plan. He has worked on fairgrounds around the world and off and on with Yellowstone County, which owns MetraPark, since 1992.

“The grandstands have been hemmed in there for so long. Now we can let (the Expo Center) grow out a little bit," Smith said.

The grandstands at MetraPark were declared unsafe earlier in the year and Yellowstone County commissioners decided to demolish them. That project is scheduled for sometime this summer.

Smith said fairgrounds around the world are moving more toward the model of an exposition park operating many events year-round. He said MetraPark is already doing that and expects more events and shows.

“That’s where our future is headed: more and more uses in valuable property. We have parking, we have utility, we have staff, we ought to use it as much as possible," Smith said.

He said he worked through 27 categories to define the issues MetraPark is trying to overcome with the new design. Some of the categories include regional access, vehicle and pedestrian circulation, the movement of animals around the grounds and adjacent land uses.

Here's a list of proposed improvements to MetraPark that would happen in all three plans:

  • Landscape beautification/new fencing
  • New entry and traffic light on First Avenue North, east of Main Street
  • New turn lanes and intersection improvements at 1st Avenue North and Exposition Drive
  • Connectivity to the East Billings Urban Renewal District, Charlie Yegen's proposed hotel and restaurant, pedestrian bridge over Main Street.
  • Utilization of the Fifth Avenue North rail corridor
  • Second driveway out of the carnival parking lot
  • Improvements to First Interstate Arena front and back of house
  • Expansion of the Expo Center
  • Demolition and replacement of old horse barns with new stall barns and warm up rings above the flood plain
  • Removal of the sandstone and heritage buildings and replacement with a food truck court/flex space
  • RV park along the Yellowstone River
  • New south public parking area
  • Remove food shacks at south edge of carnival lot and replace with a food court building
  • Relocate cattle ties and eliminate cross traffic
  • Add new landscaped pedestrian mall to provide a new front door to the south and new buildings
  • Develop new back of house service area for First Interstate Arena and Expo Center
  • Temporary/partial deck to expand seating at Chiesa Plaza lake

Smith hopes that the new and improved MetraPark will serve as a connection to downtown Billings and the East Billings Urban Renewal (TIF) District (EBURD).

“I kind of see it as a bookend of the downtown development down to EBURD, down to MetraPark and how that links up. And by the way, there’s a rail that connects all of those that has great interest to me. And I had a very good conversation with that ownership the other day," Smith said.

The rail line, which takes up what would be Fifth Avenue North, is used by a handful of businesses. Smith proposes using it to transport people to the fairgrounds after departing the train and walking on a pedestrian bridge over Main Street.

Smith said he worked with community stakeholders and received public input to help determine what elements would go into the design.

The county commissioners are expected to make a decision on which of the three plans will move forward within the next week. Smith said the whole project could cost between $60-$80 million, but he hopes it would be an economic driver for the county.

“I would say something for everybody and economic impact, what comes after that, more cash coming in. Therefore, less taxes typically, but you can’t promise that," Smith said.