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Pendleton plaza project downsized amid railroad concerns

Initial plan of event center, food hub nixed by land owner Union Pacific.
Antonio Sierra

East Oregonian

Published on October 18, 2017 8:09PM

The Pendleton Enhancement Program had ambitious designs for the 500 block of South Main Street, with the ultimate goal of building an event plaza on the old Webb’s Cold Storage at the property.

But negotiations with the property owner — Union Pacific Railroad — has forced the community group to scale back its scope to focus on beautifying and enhancing a different space — a downtown parking lot.

Chuck Wood, a project member, a retired city councilor, and the former chairman of the Pendleton Development Commission, went before the commission at a meeting Tuesday with a couple of requests. The enhancement project wanted the commission to release a $20,000 grant it had committed to the group in March and reaffirm its support for the project.

For the past year, the project has lined up support from prominent local officials and nonprofits including Wood, Umatilla County Commissioner George Murdock, the Community Action Project of East Central Oregon and the Pendleton Downtown Association.

The group divided its project into three phases: the installation of fencing around the railroad, moving old trusses from the Eighth Street Bridge to the 500 block of Main Street and creating a plaza just south of the railroad tracks.

Wood said the first phase — fencing on the north side of the train tracks from the Heritage Station Museum to behind the Trendsitions building across Main Street — is supposed to be completed by the end of the year.

The enhancement project and Union Pacific are splitting the $70,000 cost of the fencing, which will resemble the railroad fencing near Mac’s Bar & Grill at 1400 S.W. Dorion Ave. Murdock told the council that the fencing might improve use of Museum Park near Heritage Station, which is otherwise completely exposed to passing trains.

The second phase repurposes Eighth Street Bridge trusses set to be removed next summer and move them to South Main Street. The enhancement project had proposed several different configurations of four trusses between Southwest Frazer Avenue and Southwest Goodwin Avenue, but Union Pacific nixed them, Wood said.

The group is now focused on installing three trusses at the Eagles parking lot on the corner of Main and Frazer.

The project was supposed to culminate in a plaza at the Webb’s property. Renderings showed an area with grass, trees, a repurposed flatbed rail car used as a performance stage, a hard surface designed to resemble a Pendleton Woolen Mill pattern and a splash pad.

Although the plaza would be named after the railroad company, Union Pacific had some objections to the project.

According to Wood, Union Pacific explicitly rejected the idea of a farmers market in the space and was generally concerned with the idea of a large public gathering place so close to the train tracks.

If the enhancement project were to obtain the land, Union Pacific would want a fair market rate of 65 cents per square foot on a year-to-year lease, the company’s standard terms for property in the area.

Given the approximately $9,400 per year it would take to rent the property — and the estimated $670,000 it would take to develop it — the group is abandoning the plaza concept.

Wood said CAPECO is also bailing on its plans to build a food hub near the plaza. Wood said CAPECO wouldn’t want to invest millions of dollars in a property on a year-to-year lease.

“That’s not practical,” he said after the meeting.

Wood said CAPECO remains a part of the project and intends to look for other downtown sites for a food hub. CAPECO did not return a request for comment.

The Pendleton Enhancement Project now wants to incorporate some of the ideas it had for the plaza into the Eagles parking lot.

In addition to trusses and landscaping, the group wants to acquire rail cars and place them on the borders of the parking lot. The revamped parking lot would also have removable shade covers.

Wood said little to no parking would be removed because of the project, although the lot might have to be restriped.

The commission voted unanimously to release the $20,000 grant to the project. The group has raised more than $100,000 toward the approximately $137,000 it needs for the first two phases of the project.

Councilor Scott Fairley advised Wood to solicit the public before proceeding with the later phases of the project.

Other council business included:

• The commission unanimously voted to expand the boundaries of the Jump Start loan program to the entire urban renewal district.

The Jump Start program previously covered just Southeast Sixth Street to Southwest Sixth Street and some parts of Court and Dorion avenues.

• Meeting later as the city council, members unanimously voted to expand the city’s temporary business license program to vendors at Pendleton Whisky Music Fest and Pendleton Bike Week.

Previously, the temporary license rule applied only to Round-Up vendors, who paid the city between $100 and $160.

• The council unanimously approved a $184,348 bid from All-Surface Roofing to re-roof the Pendleton Convention Center.

The bid amount came in higher than the city’s estimate, which means the city council will have to approve a supplemental budget that pulls money from the general fund to help cover the difference. That means a city hall window replacement project will have to be postponed.


Contact Antonio Sierra at asierra@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0836.


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