Hermiston city councilors will have a big decision to make Monday.
The council will be deciding whether the city should take on the full risks and rewards of owning the $17 million Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center. Currently, the city and county share equal responsibility in the project.
The meeting takes place at 7 p.m. on March 12 at Hermiston City Hall, 180 NE Second St. and will include opportunity for public comment. An agenda packet with the official agreement is expected to be available online at www.hermiston.or.us/meetings by Friday afternoon.
City manager Byron Smith said the city and county have made good progress on the agreement since Umatilla County Commissioner George Murdock first proposed the idea of the county leaving EOTEC in January. The board of commissioners plan to vote on the deal on Thursday at 9:15 a.m. at the Umatilla County Courthouse in Pendleton, before passing it over to the city for approval.
Below is some background information about the proposed change.
What is EOTEC?
The Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center is located on about 90 acres of ground on East Airport Road south of Hermiston. It includes an event center, barns, rodeo arena, partially-completed RV park and grounds for hosting the Umatilla County Fair, Farm-City Pro Rodeo and other events such as trade shows and livestock auctions. There is also room to grow — about 40 acres of the 90-acre footprint — that stakeholdrs hope will someday hold added features such as an ampitheater and event center expansion.
The project broke ground in December 2014 and finished construction in August 2017, just in time for last year’s fair and rodeo.
How was EOTEC paid for?
Money for the construction of EOTEC came from a variety of public and private sources. The city of Hermiston donated the land, and Umatilla County sold the old fairgrounds in the middle of Hermiston to Hermiston School District for $3 million, which it then donated to EOTEC as seed money.
More than $8 million of the $17 million it took to build the facility came from state and federal money, mostly from an Oregon state lottery grant. More than $2 million in private donations was raised to support the project, and another $1 million came from local hoteliers who agreed to assess an extra dollar per room per night to go toward EOTEC construction.
As EOTEC continued to come up short for construction, the city and county each agreed to pitch in another $600,000 apiece. Other sources of funding included the Umatilla County Fair and Farm-City Pro Rodeo.
Money for the operation of EOTEC has come from $75,000 per year base payments by the city and county, which then split whatever additional money is needed after event rental revenue and expenses are totaled. Money for marketing comes from a $1 per room per night tourism promotion assessment that local hoteliers and RV park owners agreed to.
Who currently owns and runs EOTEC?
EOTEC was first formed by an intergovernmental agreement between Umatilla County and the city of Hermiston, meaning both entities are co-owners of the facility. They appointed a seven-member volunteer board made up of representatives from the city, county, fair, rodeo and hoteliers to oversee the facility but final liability and ownership lies with the city and county.
The board, with the approval of the city and county, recently hired a professional venue-management company called VenuWorks to run the facility’s day to day operations, including event booking, marketing, set-up and take-down for events and care of the physical facilities.
The Umatilla County Fair and Farm-City Pro Rodeo pay to lease the property for their events.
What would change under the agreement being discussed Monday?
If the city and county agree to a new arrangement, the county would withdraw from ownership of EOTEC and the city would be the sole owner. The city council would call the final shots, with input from some sort of advisory committee, and for the foreseeable future VenuWorks would continue to manage day-to-day operations.
The final text of the agreement isn’t available quite yet (check the city website later in the week) but will be similar to Murdock’s original proposal that the county honor several of its earlier financial commitments. That includes having the county pay its half of the $1.2 million VenuWorks says the facility still needs to finish the RV park and fully equip EOTEC, pay the $105,000 it had agreed upon to help cover construction overruns, continue to pay $75,000 annually for operations for the next five years and provide an additional $85,175 in 2018 and $75,399 in 2019 based on projections by VenuWorks for operational overruns. The cost for the Umatilla County Fair to lease the facility for the fair and set-up/clean-up would increase from $10,000 to $100,000 per year.
The city would work toward creating some sort of storage and office space for the fair on-site. Smith said Murdock’s original proposal had included the city taking over part or all of the neighboring Ott and Airport roads, but they are holding off on that for a separate agreement later due to some delays with the Oregon Department of Transportation providing funding for improving both roads.
So remind me what’s happening Monday?
At 7 p.m. at city hall, during their regular city council meeting, the council will discuss the agreement with the county to take over EOTEC, and will be taking public comment on the topic. At that time the council can choose to vote to approve the agreement or move the vote to a future meeting if councilors decide they want more time to study out the issue. An agenda packet for the meeting with the details of the agreement will be available on the city’s website prior to the meeting.