For most people, the first Umatilla County Fair at the new EOTEC fairgrounds was a resounding success. For many behind the scenes, it was a complete miracle.
The fair and Farm-City Pro Rodeo went off with only a few hitches and most attendees appreciated the new, more spacious facilities. This is all the more impressive when you remember the stressful moments that peppered the last few years, which became heightened when the calendar flipped to 2017 and construction was still significantly behind schedule.
At that time, the fair was without a manager, EOTEC was without a general manager and the EOTEC board had reached out to the community for millions in private donations to get the first phase of construction finished on time. They also asked for additional checks from the city of Hermiston and Umatilla County.
Local crews — both professional and volunteer — deserve a ton of credit for the work they did to get the fairgrounds ready. That work ranged from heavy industrial construction to last-minute tidying up of the grounds. Those who donated financially to the effort deserve credit too — the facilities could not have been built on time without that additional funding.
So kudos for a successful first act. But the ultimate success of EOTEC will hinge on how long it can remain successful outside of fair week, and how it can avoid annual asks for cash from its co-owners, the city of Hermiston and Umatilla County.
From this day forward, the facilities will begin to age. Before the calendar flips too many more times, maintenance will become an issue, and there is no mechanism in place to fund that necessary work. Volunteers must remain engaged, just as they did for generations at the old grounds.
We’re glad Nate Rivera is taking on the position of interim EOTEC director. His tested leadership will certainly be good for the organizational planning and structure at this crucial phase. Because this multi-million dollar enterprise still needs to develop both a budget and business plan.
But Rivera has another full-time job, and board chair Byron Smith does, too — Hermiston city manager. That Smith spent almost half his time this year working on EOTEC issues should show how complex this project was, and how many important decisions had to be made late in the game.
Millions of dollars and thousands of volunteer hours were not spent for a one-off show. The vision for this project was much larger than simply moving the fair up the hill. Now that we have a real-life glimpse of what that vision is, it’s up to the stakeholders to leverage the initial effort and fulfill the promise of a sustainable and solvent event venue.
As well as things have gone at the fair this week, we must remember that is the tip of the iceberg. The fairgrounds can no longer exist as an annual passion project. The county and city now co-own a trade and event center built on its residents’ donation of both sweat and dollars. They must make good on that investment with a sound plan that allows it to flourish.