Finding the Win-Win: Clearing up Misconceptions on Professional Venue Management
by Daniel J. Brooks, Business Advocacy Director
In July the Billings Chamber Board of Directors took a position in support of County Commissioners contracting with a professional venue management company for MetraPark management. Part of the reasoning was a familiarity with professional management at facilities around the country. The Billings Chamber has now led Billings community delegations on four Aspirational City Visits, learning best practices and gathering inspiration to make Billings the best version of itself.
Attendees heard from communities about event venues that thrive when government is taken out of the day-to-day, which should come as no surprise. We can agree that the private sector is more efficient, entrepreneurial, and competitive than the government. If we want MetraPark to go from good to great, let’s get the government out of the way.
Professional management means your taxpayer dollars will be used more effectively for the average Yellowstone County citizen. A professional management company’s access to industry networks means more events and better shows. And because they are incentivized to improve the facility, it could mean private capital investment.
In the discussion on MetraPark professional management, there are many misconceptions tossed around by opponents. Emotions are trumping reason. Creative thinking is abandoned and replaced by zero-sum mindsets. Let’s clear up some things:
Professional Management Doesn’t Mean Selling Metra
Under a professional management contract, ownership remains with the public.
The Community will Maintain Access to MetraPark
County Commissioners maintain responsibility for approving booking and scheduling policies, rental rates/fees, and approving budgets. Given their continued oversight of facility policies, County Commissioners are ultimately responsible for ensuring community groups like 4-H continue to enjoy access and utilization of MetraPark.
Contracting with Professional Management is Not Irreversible
A quick study of Montana event venues offers the example of Great Falls’ ExpoPark, which rejected a contract renewal with professional management in 2009 because county commissioners believed they had learned enough from the company to assume management of ExpoPark.
Agricultural Events Will Not be Minimized Because of Professional Management
Frankly, one could argue that the status quo at MetraPark is minimizing ag events due to the lack of maintenance that led to the demolition of the grandstands and stall barns. In contrast, a facility in Nampa, ID, that contracted with professional management in 2015 increased their ag events, added infrastructure for the ag community, and hosts local ag groups throughout the week.
The Public has Spoken on MetraPark
As part of the MetraPark Vision 2025 Master Plan, the public was asked to offer feedback on MetraPark’s strengths, potential for improvement, and new ideas about the future of MetraPark. The report's section detailing public feedback on Metra staff and management is in the sidebar.
Professional Management Can Profit While County Residents Benefit
Honestly, that’s the whole point. If professional management earns a profit, it’s precisely because they’ve brought MORE to the community by operating more efficiently, bringing more events, offering exceptional customer service, and potentially capital investment to improve the facilities. It’s a win-win.
Please visit our MetraPark Resource Library for more information.
“We received repeated feedback from stakeholders about perceptions of operational challenges at MetraPark. Participants in the process have raised concerns about insufficient staffing (both in overall numbers and specific skill sets) to fully support facilities in place now; a perception that MetraPark staff doesn’t have a customer service and/or problem-solving culture; and noted challenges in collaborating and communicating with staff for a successful event.
“We also heard that there seems to be a culture of ‘No’ at MetraPark and that the staff doesn’t often seem willing to try and fix issues for people renting the spaces. There is also a pervasive perception that there is not enough professionalism and little responsiveness to the needs of event sponsors. There is frustration that MetraPark is overly risk-averse. People are disappointed when they hear about some of the events that Metra passes on.”
MetraPark: Vision 2025 - 50 More Years
Public Outreach and Engagement Findings