When VenuWorks takes over management of the Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center on Tuesday, the company will be faced with unresolved questions about the project’s relationship with its anchor tenants.
During a meeting Friday, EOTEC board members disagreed on policy decisions regarding the Umatilla County Fair, including who would own improvements made to EOTEC property on behalf of the fair and what responsibility EOTEC had to provide office space for fair staff.
Nate Rivera, who has been acting as interim manager of EOTEC, said fair staff had been told they needed to vacate one of the two offices they have been using by Tuesday, in order to make room for VenuWorks. The company plans to have three staff on-site — an administrative assistant at the front desk, a general manager in Rivera’s former office and an operations manager in a second office. The fair employee who had been occupying that office was asked to move into the building’s ticket booth, also located in the administrative area of the event center.
Board chair Byron Smith said the longterm lease signed by the Umatilla County Fair only specified that EOTEC would provide two office spaces, but not where those spaces would be. But board member Dan Dorran said the fair board’s understanding of the lease had been that the two offices that were used by the fair this year were being reserved for their exclusive use in the future, too.
“We’re losing office space that was dedicated to us,” he said.
Rivera said asking the fair staff to move into the ticket booth wasn’t a slight on the fair, but merely an acknowledgment that everyone using EOTEC didn’t have all of the resources and space they need and compromise had to be made. While he and Smith emphasized the need for EOTEC to operate successfully year-round and not just during fair week, board member Larry Givens said the “real purpose” of the project was to provide a new home for the fair and the Farm City Pro-Rodeo.
“This can be worked out, but I don’t want us to forget the two main reasons for this facility were for the fair and the rodeo,” he said. “I don’t want to shortchange them because a lot of donations were made with the fair and rodeo in mind.”
At the behest of the fair board, John Eckhardt of Knerr Construction presented an option to turn the small first aid station inside the event center into another office by moving its doorway from the lobby to the office area. He said a remodel would likely cost about $15,000. During the fair, first aid could then be moved to the building near the barns used by law enforcement. Rivera said security personnel for events at EOTEC use the first aid station as their base, so they would also have to be moved somewhere else.
Givens said the ideal solution would be to have a separate building for the fair, similar to the mercantile building the Farm City Pro-Rodeo built on their own dime next to the rodeo arena. Then the fair staff could have office space year-round, especially during the weeks surrounding the fair when they ramp up to eight staff. They could also have storage and a conference room they could use without being charged.
Eckhardt roughly estimated such a building would cost about $700,000.
Rivera said the EOTEC board hired VenuWorks to provide professional expertise in running the venue, including creation of a business plan and longterm strategic plan. It made sense, he said, to let them come in, get to know the project and its tenants, and make recommendations before the board made decisions about things like remodeling. In the end, the board agreed to hold off on making the fair vacate an office and revisit the issue during their January meeting after VenuWorks came on board.
They also held off on making a decision on who would own and/or control improvements made to EOTEC on behalf of the fair or other organizations. The livestock auction committee got permission Friday to install a system of panels around the animal-weighing stations to increase “safety and animal-control,” and last week the fair received permission to install some roofing structures over storage containers on the property.
“People who have donated things are asking are they ours? Are they the fair’s? Are the EOTEC’s?” Givens said.
The board’s next meeting is scheduled for Jan. 26, although Smith said there may be a special joint meeting with the Umatilla County commission and Hermiston city council on Jan. 22. Rivera also requested that board members attend the city’s Jan. 10 planning commission meeting. EOTEC obtained a variance from the planning commission for parking during the fair and rodeo, but conditions set for that variance were not met, and Rivera said the planning commission has requested testimony as to why they were not met.
Contact Jade McDowell at email@example.com or 541-564-4536.