Umatilla County Commissioner George Murdock said March 8 that the county should consider handing full ownership of the Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center to the city of Hermiston.
“I believe that in the long run we need to be a tenant of EOTEC and neither an owner or a manager,” he said during the board of commissioners meeting in Pendleton.
The county and city of Hermiston currently share ownership of the event center. Murdock said the two local governments are already working on an operating agreement dealing with the future of EOTEC and his ownership proposal should be part of the discussion.
The city and county next meet March 20 to discuss EOTEC management.
The county’s primary interest in the event center continues to be as the new home for the annual fair, Murdock said, while Hermiston has broader interests of tourism and benefit to the business community. Under his proposition, the county would use the facility for the fair and pay a lease of $25,000 a year for five years, then renegotiate the deal. He also suggested the county could have a permanent storage area at the site and office space.
He said the county was at a crossroads with EOTEC, which “stands to be a wonderful addition to Umatilla County,” while also being a potential liability. The county and Hermiston are each on the hook for three years to cover shortfalls in EOTEC’s operational expenses.
He emphasized the break from EOTEC is a long-term goal and a notion he considered long before Hermiston city councilor John Kirwan suggested earlier this month that the council take over as EOTEC’s acting board until after the end of construction and the 2017 fair and rodeo.
“This is a position I’ve held for some time relative to the ultimate future of EOTEC,” Murdock told fellow commissioners Larry Givens and Bill Elfering. “It’s a position I have shared openly ... it’s a matter of record... it’s simply making clear that’s ultimately where we need to move.”
Givens and Elfering responded with caution.
“Turbulence comes up in a marriage from time to time,” Elfering said. “And I’m not ready to divorce yet from the proposal we’ve had.”
Elfering said Hermiston taking over the event center makes about as much sense as the county taking it over and that the parties need to hold more discussions.
Givens said EOTEC is about to move from a construction phase into operations. Finding the best management style is the crux of the issue, according to Givens.
“I agree,” Murdock said. “But I don’t know of any successful business that would give their checkbook to someone else.”
Don Miller serves on the EOTEC and the fair boards and urged the county to stay on as a co-owner. Pulling out at this juncture is premature, he said, and could harm economic opportunities.
Murdock said his proposal was just a matter of discussion and not for action. He also said he supported the EOTEC board and would not agree with Hermiston City Council taking over the project.