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Horseracing group wants county to "slow things down" on MetraPark grandstand demolition

Posted at 10:14 AM, Jul 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-21 14:14:17-04

BILLINGS - A former Billings legislator, who now heads up the Montana Racehorse Owners & Breeders Coalition, insists he does not want to stand in the way of progress.

Dan Fuchs does question, however, the decision by the Yellowstone County Commission to demolish the 71-year-old grandstand at MetraPark. He contends taxpayers have not been informed as to what the replacement plan is.

"The goal is to just slow things down," said Fuchs. " We're not trying to get in the way of progress. We just want to know what the timeline is, what's the cost of a new grandstand going to be?"

Fuchs also wants the County Commission to explore the historical signficance of the old grandstand, which he believes could qualify for possible grants to help pay for repair and maintenance costs.

"If there was ever a time the Commissioners should have reached out to their Historic Preservation Board it would have been on this historically eligible property," said Fuchs. "This is historic property for Billings. It has a long history and I think they kind of dismissed it without seeking some professional wisdom and I'd like to see then go back and check that out."

RELATED: Horse-racing group seeking to block demolition of MetraPark grandstands in Billings

In the meantime, Fuchs says the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the economics related to MetraPark, and he questions moving forward without a solid plan in place.

"If the Metra is going to stay closed down, we're going to have a need to create revenue for the taxpayers," Fuchs said. "Otherwise this is shutdown, there's nothing here, the Metra's closed. You know, how are they going to make any revenue here."

Fuchs and the county presented arguments to Yellowstone County District Judge Rod Souza during a Monday Zoom hearing. The Racehorse Owners and Breeders are seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the grandstand demolition.

In her brief, Deputy Yellowstone County Attorney Jeana Lervick pointed out that the Commission is under no obligation to contact the Historical Preservation Board. She also said the grandstand issue was on the Commission's agenda and discussed no less than 10 times dating back to September of 2019.

"Plaintiff is not irreparably harmed by that decision and there is no emergency warranting the Court' s intervention," said Lervick. "The plaintiff's request is based on the notion that this Court should enjoin a governmental body, whenever there is disagreement with its decisions. Clearly such a request is outside of the confines of preliminary injunctions."

Souza took Monday's arguments under advisement. A decision could come later this week.

According to Fuchs, the Montana Horserace Owners and Breeder's Coalition formed two years ago to represent the industry during state legislative sessions. Fuchs said the organization's new Facebook group has as many as 3,000 members.

While horse racing has been absent from Yellowstone Downs for nine years, Fuchs insists Montana's horse racing industry is close to getting back on track. In 2018, Great Falls replaced it's aging grandstand with a new facility, and Fuchs told MTN News that a new turf club formed recently in Billings in hopes of requesting race dates at MetraPark in the future.

Fuchs also said the Montana Board of Horse Racing recently retired its debt, and there is growing talk of new legislation to restore Montana horse racing, similar to the state of Wyoming