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Our view: Trading an event center

Published on January 23, 2018 5:08PM

Staff photo by E.J. Harris
Umatilla County Commissioner George Murdock reads a proposal to dissolve the intergovernmental agreement between Umatilla County and the city of Hermiston on Monday.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris Umatilla County Commissioner George Murdock reads a proposal to dissolve the intergovernmental agreement between Umatilla County and the city of Hermiston on Monday.

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After successfully hosting its first fair and rodeo, EOTEC has been plagued by too many people expecting too many contradictory things from the property south of Hermiston.

On Monday, the city of Hermiston and Umatilla County — currently co-owners of the multi-million dollar project — came up with a plan to take at least one cook out of a too-crowded kitchen.

The deal is complicated, but it revolves around one surety: The county would relinquish all ownership and liability of EOTEC and Hermiston would take on full ownership and full responsibility. To get out of the partnership, county commissioner George Murdock proposed that the county pay more than $1.4 million through 2022, and increase its annual fair lease payment to $100,000 per year in perpetuity.

We think it’s a smart move at this point, though we know it is sure to ruffle some feathers. Many people donated big bucks with the understanding that the former arrangement would continue. State and county taxpayers threw in many millions, too.

And the Umatilla County Fair — in many people’s eyes the whole reason for this project — will cede their ownership stake. Sure, promises have been made to the fair board and there are reasons to be optimistic. But someone else will be making the decisions from here on out, and dollars are bound to be hard to come by. The fair has a right to be nervous about the county backing away.

Underlying this proposal is the fact of a changing of the guard on EOTEC. Many members of the EOTEC board, who have been volunteering for this project for near a decade, will give way to a new generation that will now manage EOTEC day to day.

Things will be lost in the transition, priorities rearranged. There is no way to please everyone and something is always lost between the planning and the execution.

But the last year has made clear that changes are needed in how EOTEC is managed and operated. Hard truths need to be reckoned with, and that’s easier — and better — done when a single set of priorities are in place.

The city, the county and EOTEC are dealing with reality now. Mayor Dave Drotzmann described EOTEC as “another pool” — meaning a city asset that takes a lot of maintenance, money and management without bringing in enough revenue to cover costs.

But, like the pool, it makes Hermiston a more desirable place to be, and has the potential to make a real difference to local businesses, especially hotels and restaurants.

The city of Hermiston is going to make some difficult decisions in the coming months. After those decisions are made, we’ll have a better understanding of what EOTEC is and what its future will be.



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