Umatilla County, Hermiston in negotiations over EOTEC split

The Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center, a joint venture between Umatilla County and the city of Hermiston, may be taken over by Hermiston in March.

Umatilla County has spent more than $4.8 million to create and operate the Eastern Oregon Event and Trade Center since its inception, and plans to spend almost $1.2 million more in the next five years if Hermiston takes over full control of the event center.

The county’s single biggest contribution to EOTEC was the roughly $3 million it earned from selling the fairgrounds in 2013. The county provided an additional $1,050,000 in 2015-16 for construction, and along the way more than $136,000 for operational support.

A proposal by the county to give Hermiston full ownership of EOTEC Hermiston had listed March 1 as the takeover date, but commissioners voted to push that to March 12 when Hermiston City Council meets. While both entities voted Jan. 22 to begin negotiations for a deal, a final decision must still be approved by both, which have partnered in the project since the beginning.

Larry Givens, county commissioner, and Byron Smith, Hermiston city manager, said the deal is about cutting down on the number of governments involved in EOTEC, akin to having the correct number of cooks in the kitchen.

“That’s what we’re hoping,” Smith said.

Smith and Givens said the delay allows more time to work out details to the deal. That includes language requiring the city to construct a new building at EOTEC to serve as year-round office and storage space for the county fair.

Smith said the city and county agree on the need for the building but have yet to decide how to pay for it.

The deal also would have the county pay $105,000 to cover half of EOTEC’s construction overrun and $595,000 for its half of the equipment, storage and other needs requested by VenuWorks, the company hired to oversee EOTEC. The county also agreed to pay $375,000 in the next five years to cover operations, plus $85,175 in 2018 and $75,399 in 2019 to cover operational overruns as currently estimated by VenuWorks.

Givens said handing over EOTEC to the city without ongoing fiscal support would not have been fair, and VenuWorks reported it needs three years to break even.

“Still the goal of EOTEC is be a self-sustaining facility,” Givens said.

All told, the county finance department reported the total contributions through 2022 would come to more than $6 million but that could change if the city and county don’t reach a deal.

That seems unlikely, Givens and Smith said, as both sides want to reach an agreement.

One piece of the proposal might need more time to come together is the county handing control of Airport and Ott roads to the city.

The roads lead to EOTEC. Givens said the county is waiting on about $1.1 million from the Oregon Department of Transportation before it upgrades the roads.

“We can’t start anything until we basically get a check in hand,” he said.

The money is not coming until the end of the Legislature’s short session, and Givens said it could be June before the county gets that check. The primary project would add a center turn lane on Airport Road, making it three lanes wide. That’s a tight construction timeline before August, when the county fair is underway at EOTEC.

“We don’t want the roads torn up when we’re having to do the fair,” Givens said. “So timing it critical.”

He also said the state funds may not be enough to cover those costs and improve Ott Road, which is unpaved, so this could go into multiple budget cycles.

Smith said the city wants the roads, but this would not hold up the deal. The city and county, he said, would just come to an agreement to work out the roads as the funding comes through.

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