The Hermiston City Council vented frustration with the Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center on Monday after hearing the center needs $1.2 million and that the board has not yet adopted an official vision or longterm plan.
“Something has got to change,” Mayor David Drotzmann said. “These knee-jerk reactions and decisions don’t solve problems, they create them.”
The EOTEC board hired the venue-management company VenuWorks to operate the project starting Jan. 1, and one of the first things the company did was put together a list of everything they needed to run EOTEC. The list ran the gamut from lawnmowers to storage sheds to completion of the RV park. The cost of fulfilling those needs was estimated at $1.2 million.
Byron Smith, who is the EOTEC board chair as well as the Hermiston city manger, said VenuWorks’ original estimate that EOTEC could break even by 2020 is only true if the city and Umatilla County purchase the equipment (instead of adding rental costs to the operations budget), and if the RV park is completed so that it could become a source of revenue.
At a previous meeting, the EOTEC board noted that the cost of constructing the facility was $17.2 million, which overran what was budgeted by $210,000. The city and county had already agreed to split the cost of any overruns in EOTEC’s budget, in addition to the $75,000 they automatically contribute to the center’s operation costs each year. Venuworks estimates cost overruns for 2018 will be $172,350.
“This is starting to be real money,” councilor Jackie Myers commented.
Councilor John Kirwan said he understood that the EOTEC board was comprised of volunteers doing the best they can, and he appreciated the work they had done in getting construction finished in time for the 2017 Umatilla County Fair and Farm-City Pro Rodeo. But he said EOTEC has been “one rolling problem-solving event” and it was past time for EOTEC to have a solid longterm plan in place.
“I don’t know if the way the board is currently operating is part of that vision,” he said.
He and Drotzmann both cited a recent problem when one of the fair’s two full-time staff members was asked to move out of their office into the event center’s ticket booth to make room for Venuworks staff. After the fair board pushed back at the last-minute request, the EOTEC board gave them a month’s reprieve, leaving VenuWorks without an office for one of its three staff members brought in to run the center.
“That’s an example of poor planning,” Kirwan said.
The office issue highlighted a growing tension between the idea that EOTEC needs to be profitable and successful 52 weeks out of the year, and the idea that EOTEC was built first and foremost as a replacement for the fair and rodeo grounds and therefore those two events should be the priority even if it means sacrificing some profitability.
The EOTEC board approved leases with the Umatilla County Fair and Farm-City Pro Rodeo in March, but Smith said there was already talk of trying to renegotiate the leases.
Kirwan said if the EOTEC board continues to run the project like it’s a fairgrounds and not a year-round event center, “we’re going to be having an auction in a few years to auction off EOTEC.”
The city council, county commission and EOTEC board are planning a joint meeting on Jan. 22 at 6 p.m. at Hermiston City Hall.
Contact Jade McDowell at email@example.com or 541-564-4536.