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South Dakota mayor to speak in Billings about privately managed venues

Posted at 10:56 PM, Aug 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-18 08:56:14-04

BILLINGS - One of venues in Billings could also see some big changes, after Yellowstone County Commissioners voted on Tuesday to begin requesting bids from private companies interested in managing MetraPark.

Sioux Falls, South Dakota has several public venues that are already privately managed, including the 12,000-seat Premier Center.

"There's companies out there that specialize and can maximize profits can maximize community benefit, and are incentivized to do good by the community," said Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken. "And so for us to have a third party organization that's run our facility in Sioux Falls, it's been a real success for us."

TenHaken was invited by the Billings Chamber of Commerce to talk about his city's experience with privately managed venues.

The mayor of Nampa, Idaho will also talk at the chamber event at the Northern Hotel on Thursday morning.

Third party contractors have worked for Sioux Falls since the early 1990s.

"If the private market can succeed at something, then I don't think the government needs to be in that business," TenHaken said.

Former Metrapark General Manager Bill Dutcher, who retired last year after 40 years on the job, has fought to keep Metra under Yellowstone County management.

"Not saying that everything's perfect," Dutcher said. "I never heard anybody saying we're not coming back because the facility is so badly run."

Dutcher says you have to look no further than MontanaFair to see the potential negative impact of privatization.

Metra staff currently works year round on the fair, unlike most venues, but proponents say local staff will still be needed to run the facility.

And Sioux Falls city leaders say private management there has been a big success specifically, the city's Premier Center, which was built in 2014.

"We have generated over $5 million in profits from 2014 till 2019," said Shawn Pritchett, Sioux Falls director of finance. "In 2019, we had our highest gross revenue ever for the facility and everything was looking great. And then COVID hit, so we did take a loss during 2020."

So far two Los Angeles based companies have expressed interest in managing Metrapark and of them ASM Global manages venues in Sioux Falls.

Pritchett says finding the right company is the key to success.

"They're an extension or agent of the city," Pritchett said. "And so the key thing to that is communication."