Shortly after taking over the Pendleton Convention Center manager position in July, Pat Beard put his stamp on the former National Guard armory.
There’s been plenty of activity inside the convention center, but the most noticeable change — a new paint job that turned the building’s color scheme from beige to dark brown — is on the exterior.
“It’s a much warmer color,” he told the Pendleton City Council at a Nov. 7 meeting. “It’s representative of Eastern Oregon.”
Both at the council meeting and in a following interview, Beard listed some of the upgrades made to the convention center in recent months.
In addition to the new paint both inside and outside the facility, the center added new projectors, installed new wayfaring signs, repainted the curbs and lines in the parking lot, created a new promotional video and doubled bandwidth on the convention center’s wi-fi.
The latter is important to media-heavy events like the Oregon School Activities Association 2A basketball tournament, where media members and the crowd are all competing for internet bandwidth as they share information online. Beard added that unlike other convention centers, high-speed internet at Pendleton’s facility remains free to use.
Beard said these aesthetic and service improvements are needed because the convention center is among the most visited facilities in town on a year-round basis. In his first 100 days on the job, staff recorded 56 events spanning 79 event days that brought 3,600 attendees through the lobby.
Beard’s ambitions don’t stop at the current spate of improvements. He also wants to renovate the Happy Canyon Room, a concessions area toward the back of the building that Beard said wasn’t inviting enough.
“It’s kind of hard to have fun in an elementary school cafeteria,” he said.
Beard’s vision includes a revamped bar and floor that would fit better thematically with the Happy Canyon arena, which shares a set of doors with the room.
Beard said his goal is to not only bring events to the arena, but for convention-goers to utilize the rest of Pendleton.
Growing Pendleton’s tourism industry is in the center’s best interest: it relies on two separate hotel room taxes — the transient room tax and the tourism promotion assessment charge — to fund its operations.
The city has used those funds to heavily reinvest in the convention center. According to Pendleton budget documents, the assessment charge fund has spent $1.4 million from 2006-2015 on outlays like heating, ventilation and air conditioning replacement, new kitchen equipment and an expansion of the east side rooms.
For the current fiscal year, the city budgeted $124,000 for replacing the convention center roof. But the lowest bid came in $61,000 above the city’s estimate and staff were forced to delay a few convention center purchases and a city hall window replacement project to cover the gap.
Smaller projects, like the $35,828 paint job, were covered out of the convention center’s operations budget.
Jayne Clarke, the chairwoman of the Pendleton Convention Center Commission, told the council that staff has to come up with creative ways to fund some of the recent projects.
The department paid for the production of a promotional video by having some of the businesses featured in the clip cover the costs. The video will play at a kiosk in the lobby during events to advertise Pendleton’s amenities.
Instead of trying to make it fit into a future budget, Beard plans to partner with the Happy Canyon organization and seek out grants and private donors to cover the cost of the upgrades.
That doesn’t mean the convention center won’t rely on traditional sources to fuel more improvements.
Clarke said she would return to the council with a list of capital expenses and cost estimates.
“We will be putting dollars to our dreams and asking for money from you to supplement some of the things we need,” she said. “But we believe it’s an investment, not a sinkhole.”
Contact Antonio Sierra at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0836.