In presentations this past week to several groups of local officials, the master planner for Metra Park laid forth three different options of how to develop Metra Park in the future.
According to the plan the future of Metra Park will be that of an exposition center, almost certain to include an amphitheater, probably a new RV campground, and no horse racing– with a price tag that could reach $80 million over the next ten years, depending on what options are selected, according to Charlie Smith, a consultant from Knoxville, Tennessee. Smith specializes in planning for fairgrounds and exhibition centers all over the country and has been engaged as the primary advisor regarding Metra Park over the past three decades and is very familiar with the county-owned facility and its history.
Basic to all the options in the master plan are improvements to First Interstate Arena lobby, concessions, and back-of-house service area. The Expo would be converted into a conference center, which necessitates removing all dirt events from that building. There would be removal of the food shacks, old horse barns, Sandstone and Heritage buildings. Added would be a food court building, 1st Ave. entry and second exit from carnival lot, new stall barns, a walking pedestrian mall, an RV campground, a new signalized intersection on 1st Ave. North, a connector bridge across Expo Drive, and lots of beautification.
Smith said that this is a good time to be planning for the future of Metra Park given all the positive things going on around it – everything from the development of a beautification plan, the development of the EBURD (east Billings) across Expo Drive with restaurants and hotels, to plans of the Montana Department of Transportation to redesign and rebuild Expo Drive (Main Street) and the 1st Avenue North intersection. He pointed out that there have been some 15 different studies done in the recent past involving Metra Park and his plan integrated, whenever possible other planning efforts .