After years of running in place, Blue Mountain Community College’s FARM II project is suddenly on the fast track to reality.
But after the college approached Pendleton City Council Tuesday night with their plans, it’s clear that some minds remain unconvinced. And there is a debate over whether the $10 million to $12 million facility should be located on Pendleton Round-Up property right in the heart of the city.
BMCC has nearly pushed its boulder up the mountain, lassoing $5 million from the state for the facility that would house an expanded animal science program and the college’s rodeo team. It has also secured investments from Umatilla County Commissioners and the Port of Umatilla. It has an agreement to erect the building on Pendleton Round-Up property. It still needs to raise more private dollars, and keep an eye out for other public grants and loans.
It’s also asking for $150,000 from the city of Pendleton, which has much to gain and much to lose from the facility. In addition to the one-time cash handout, if FARM II goes forward it will likely take prime land off the tax rolls for the foreseeable future. It may even help the Round-Up’s cause to become exempt from paying property taxes. That would amount to more than $100,000 in annual lost tax revenue for local municipalities.
But there are benefits, too.
The two things Pendleton does best is rodeo and hospitality, and FARM II would hit that sweet spot perfectly. Visitors love to come here, and among horse and rodeo fans the Pendleton brand speaks for itself. We have no doubt that if the FARM II grew legs and sprouted, it would find its success and attract its share of events.
And it goes without saying that it would be beneficial to BMCC, and especially its rodeo team. And what’s good for BMCC and the local economy is ultimately good for the city of Pendleton. It would also be good for the Round-Up, giving the space-starved organization a place for storage and cowboys opportunity to warm up their horses, and year-round opportunities to expand the brand.
But then again, there are underlying issues. The property itself and its value to the city is a main one. And the land will remain owned by the Round-Up, though the building will be owned and operated by BMCC. As we’ve seen across the county with EOTEC, perfect partnerships can dissolve when two groups have different priorities.
And speaking of EOTEC, there is no reason Pendleton should cede events to Hermiston. But local taxpayers cannot be on the hook for two indoor event centers within 30 miles.
In a perfect world, FARM II is built on the BMCC campus. It helps attract more veterinary and livestock students as well as rodeo athletes. The school’s rodeo teams win national titles. The facility helps bring in horse shows and indoor rodeos, filling Pendleton hotel rooms and bringing in tax dollars. The Round-Up has the opportunity to spearhead development around its campus, expanding at a pace that fits their finances.
No world is perfect — the cost increases for putting FARM II on BMCC’s hilly campus — and there are pluses and minuses to every decision. But just because we’ve worn down legislators and have a big check in our back pocket does not mean we should barrel forward without questioning the consequences.