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Pendleton Downtown Association asks for permanent funding

Antonio Sierra

East Oregonian

Published on January 9, 2018 12:01AM

Last changed on January 9, 2018 10:36PM


One year ago, the Pendleton Downtown Association left the Pendleton City Council chambers with one year of salary for their executive director and a stern warning to spend that year looking for alternative sources of funding.

On Tuesday, Molly Turner, the association’s executive director, returned to the council and asked that the city help fund her position permanently.

Not including city staff members, about 25 people packed the council annex room to support the association for a council workshop, a monthly meeting that usually attracts two or three members of the public.

In front of the council once again, Turner made her pitch.

Under Turner’s stewardship, she said the association’s membership rose to 90 members and is expanding its executive board from seven members to nine.

The association has also spent the past year creating and sustaining events like the Pendleton Holiday Stroll and Pendleton Comes Alive. More events are planned for 2018, including a pub crawl and a three-on-three basketball tournament.

Turner also highlighted the initiatives the association has either implemented or is in the process of developing, like a downtown tree replacement program, a shopper’s survey and a secret shopper program.

Through grants the association has obtained for projects like the Rivoli Theater restoration or fencing near the railroad tracks, Turner calculated that the association has generated $5.74 for each dollar the city has spent on her salary.

While the association has looked toward other sources of funding, Turner said grants that cover operational costs are hard to come by.

“We’re constantly seeking new and alternative grant source for funding, but there just aren’t many out there,” she said.

Turner proposed the city contribute $55,000 annually to the downtown association’s operations for the next two years, then giving $40,000 for every year after that. She added that the city’s funding would eventually be supplemented by an estimated $35,000 from other sources, including membership dues, corporate sponsorships and fundraising events.

Turner said other downtown organizations receive funding from their local government, including groups in Milton-Freewater, The Dalles and Astoria.

Pendleton City Councilor Dale Primmer said the council “caught a lot of hell” from constituents following the last vote to fund the association because the nonprofit was seen as being “duplicative” of other organizations like the Pendleton Chamber of Commerce. As the Pendleton Development Commission, the council approved giving the association $55,000 for Turner’s salary and other operational costs by a narrow 5-4 vote.

Councilor Paul Chalmers, the commission chairman, said the urban renewal district was never meant to pay for a salary outside of those paid to city staff and reminded the audience that the district was set to expire in 2023.

Chalmers suggested the association collaborate with the chamber of commerce, which already receives public funding through Pendleton’s hotel room taxes, to help cover its costs. He noted that Turner projected only $6,000 per year from membership dues.

“When my kids wanted to go to college, they had to step up to the plate and participate in the midst of that,” he said. “I find it a little troublesome to want to promote dollars and cents into an entity that is not ... stepping up to the plate.”

The downtown business owners in attendance defended the association, recounting how the current iteration of the group is more organized and cohesive compared to other predecessors that tried to organize downtown merchants.

“The downtown association was totally abandoned, shut down, forgotten. For a number of years, there was nothing,” Bruce Gianotti said. “It’s a come a long ways from zero, from a point where nobody wanted to do it anymore. It was a dead horse. It did nothing to promote downtown and look at it now.”

Angela Thompson of Pendleton Music Co., a member of both the association and the chamber, said the association provides a focus on downtown businesses that the chamber doesn’t offer.

Pendleton city staff also spoke in favor of association.

“I don’t know how you get the money, but not investing in that Main Street would be absolutely insane,” Pendleton Economic Development Director Steve Chrisman said. “I drag every single person that enters this town (onto Main Street). That’s what separates Pendleton from every town in America. Take that away and you really have nothing to write home about.”

As an ex-officio member of the chamber board, City Manager Robb Corbett said the chamber doesn’t have the capacity to assist the association and neither does the city.

Toward the end of the meeting, the council agreed to form a committee with the association to look at funding sources. Turner said the association’s current funding would run out in a year.

An emergency services fee for nonprofits was set to be discussed at the workshop, but it was pulled off the agenda at the beginning of the meeting and Corbett did not know when it would be rescheduled.

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



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