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Driven by vision: Grassroots groups take on downtown Pendleton projects

Rivoli Theater, food hub not going through normal government channels
Antonio Sierra

East Oregonian

and Phil Wright

East Oregonian

Published on March 22, 2017 12:01AM

Last changed on March 23, 2017 9:45AM

This conceptual design shows the reuse of Pendleton’s Eighth Street Bridge, as viewed from South Main Street facing north.

Contributed image

This conceptual design shows the reuse of Pendleton’s Eighth Street Bridge, as viewed from South Main Street facing north.

The Rivoli Theater renovation in downtown Pendleton will include a stage, floor space, balcony and both a green room and storage area in the basement.

Contributed image

The Rivoli Theater renovation in downtown Pendleton will include a stage, floor space, balcony and both a green room and storage area in the basement.


There’s a certain approach local governments often take to civic projects.

The government agency commissions a plan, a professional firm (often from Portland) creates the plan, the public is given a chance for public input and either the civic project gets done or the plan sits on the shelf.

Whether by choice or by necessity, two community groups comprised of Pendleton residents and organizations are working at a grassroots level to bring new civic projects to downtown Pendleton.

These groups are not only working with local government, but also using personal relationships to help translate their plans into reality.

Rivoli Theater Coalition

Andrew Picken is the board president of the Rivoli Theater Restoration Coalition, the nonprofit organization working to bring the old theater on Pendleton’s Main Street back to life.

“I think of the Rivoli as the least well acknowledged or recognized success project in Umatilla County,” Picken recently told the Umatilla County Board of Commissioners.

The coalition has raised $411,000 Picken said Wednesday, and 16 percent of that came from the Pendleton Development Commission. For every $1 from the commission, the Rivoli group raised $6 more.

The Rivoli’s most recent expense was the $138,000 for architectural and engineering designs. Umatilla County contributed $7,500 from economic and community development for the work, and Picken said another $12,000 came from a state grant. The rest — roughly 86 percent — came from individuals and foundations.

More grant funds could be on the way, thanks to the relationship with the Pendleton Downtown Association, a nonprofit member organization for downtown merchants.

Molly Turner, the association’s program manager, said she and Picken put in hours of hard work on an application for a $100,000 Oregon Main Street Revitalization Grant. Only official Oregon Main Street organizations can apply, she said, and the downtown association is one.

“It’s a very competitive process,” she said. “There’s 45 applicants.”

The application was due March 17, and Turner said they will hear back in May about the outcome.

Picken said if the money comes through, the Rivoli project will be in good shape to proceed with demolition this summer and kick off the first of three construction phases. He estimated the whole Rivoli project could wrap up in 2021.

As he told the county board, the limiting factor used to be belief in the project, and now it’s cold, hard cash — a solvable problem.

As an example, Picken brought up in an interview a recent success of the Pendleton Downtown Association. Jill and Mike Thorne, Pendleton wheat farmers who have long been active in local politics and community, promised to give $50,000 to the downtown association if it could raise an equal match. Picken said Fred Bradbury, the PDA’s president, took that on and got it done.

The revitalization efforts come from the people who live here, Picken said, and they build on each other. The money can come from far and wide, and suggestions and input from outside the community, but the people who are going to help Pendleton live in town.

Given that the Rivoli restoration is a multi-million dollar undertaking, Picken said the only feasible way the project could get done is through a local nonprofit.

Without the political pressures of a public body or the profit concerns of a private company, Picken said the Rivoli coalition has greater flexibility to achieve its goal.

Pendleton Enhancement Project

The Pendleton Enhancement Project is traveling in many of the same circles as the Rivoli coalition.

In its quest to move the historic Eighth Street Bridge from its current location to South Main Street, the enhancement project has secured funding from Umatilla County and the Pendleton Development Commission.

The group is comprised of about 30 local government officials and nonprofits, but the enhancement project has a core group of five leaders — Fred Bradbury, George Murdock, the chairman of the Umatilla County Board of Commissioners, Chuck Wood, a former Pendleton city councilor and chairman of the development commission, Charles Denight, associate director of the development commission and Paula Hall, CEO of the Community Action Program of East Central Oregon.

Having come together in support of demolishing the old Webb’s Cold Storage building, the enhancement project is now focusing on making civic improvements through incremental steps.

According to an interview with the group’s leaders, getting smaller projects done in a relatively short period of time is important for the enhancement project’s reputation with the public.

“You can come up with grand schemes that cost a fortune,” Murdock said. “Consequently, you get nothing done.”

Once the bridge project is complete, the organization literally has a list of proposals to consider.

The enhancement project held a meeting in December where they solicited ideas from members of the public about things they would like to see in Pendleton.

Not every idea is small.

Among the most ambitious is a food hub, a multipurpose building that could include a grocery store, a food co-op, a commercial kitchen and other features. Currently being considered for the space where Webb’s Cold Storage used to be, Hall said a feasibility study would be the next step.

Enhancement project leaders said their various expertises and connections give their group an advantage over a single entity.

For example, Murdock assigned one of his county staffers to help coordinate the group. Additionally, the enhancement project has received assistance from Umatilla County’s assessment and taxation and planning departments.

To help them with further planning efforts, the enhancement project is going to enlist students from the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, a connection the group made through Denight and Pendleton Center for the Arts director Roberta Lavadour, another member of the group.

“We’re like-minded but we’re from different areas,” Hall said.

To avoid falling by the wayside, Wood said the enhancement project will need to continue to meet and collaborate.



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