Plans to open the Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center will leap forward Monday as stakeholders gather to sign the memorandum of agreement pledging their support for the project.

In planning by a project steering committee, the EOTEC would create a $21 million, multi-purpose facility capable of hosting events year-round, including two of Umatilla County’s trademark events: The Umatilla County Fair and Farm-City Pro Rodeo. Funding for the project would come from stakeholder contributions, including the city of Hermiston’s donation of the 75-acre property and infrastructure, and grant funding.

The project’s stakeholders are the city of Hermiston, Umatilla County, Hermiston School District, Umatilla County Fair Board and the board for the Farm-City Pro Rodeo.

“Each board has unofficially approved it,” committee spokesman Dan Dorran said Wednesday, “but this is a big, official step toward moving forward.”

This week, the steering committee also checked two items off the project’s to-do list: Monday night, the Hermiston City Council authorized City Manager Ed Brookshier to sign the memorandum of agreement, and Tuesday, committee members were on hand for the first public forum on the project.

Phil Hamm, president of the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce, hosted that well-attended public forum, which took the place of the chamber’s monthly business luncheon.

“This is a facility and opportunity that seldom comes to a town like Hermiston, and this is really the first opportunity we’ve had as a community to ask questions about it,” Hamm said.

Community members did raise questions, and the most common dealt with uses for the facility and potential issues with proximity to the Hermiston airport.

Dorran answered each question and said the committee supports all feedback from the community, especially letters of support that can be used to solicit grant funding. To provide feedback or for more information on submitting letters, contact Dorran at 253-709-1945.

“If everything works as planned, we would like to be able to, by the Umatilla County Fair appreciation dinner this spring, announce a go or no-go for the project,” Dorran said. “This is a very community-oriented project that has regional reach, and I think it’s going to open a lot of opportunities.”

One of those opportunities could already be underway. Steering committee member Vijay Patel said he has been involved with the project since the beginning because of his plan to build an 85-room Holiday Inn Express on Highway 395. The hotel has been in development since 2007 but is on hold because of a lack of financing. By building the EOTEC on the south end of town, it could increase opportunities for new development, such as Patel’s hotel, in the area.

“An event center would help the hotel or any other business up there,”?Patel said Thursday. “The event center would definitely bring more events to town. It would not only help the hotel but every small business in the community. I'm glad to see there's great support for the new events center. In the east of the state, we don't really have a center where we can bring events, so this will help not only Hermiston, but the whole community. It's going to help everyone.”

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