Blue Mountain Community College has already roped in $5.3 million for its indoor arena project at the Round-Up Grounds and it’s now looking for a substantial financial commitment from the city of Pendleton.
At a city council workshop Tuesday, BMCC President Cam Preus made a presentation where she asked the city to commit $150,000 to the project.
Between Preus and Mayor John Turner, a former BMCC president himself, the college has been working on building an arena for years. But the project started to come together over the past 18 months.
BMCC received $2.1 million from the state toward its $6.3 million Facility for Agricultural Resource Management, or FARM, and used the proceeds from a $23 million bond passed in 2015 to fund the rest.
During the last session, BMCC was able to convince legislators to offer another $5 million for FARM II, a facility that would house an extended animal science program and the college rodeo team.
Without the benefit of bond funds, BMCC will have to do additional legwork to cover the rest of the costs for the projected $10 million to $12 million facility.
Preus said BMCC signed a letter of intent with the Round-Up Association and the Round-Up Foundation to lease property on the rodeo’s sprawling campus, which recently expanded to both the south and west. She added that the college would be the sole owner and operator of the building.
Although the exact location is uncertain, Preus shared a rendering and floor plan of what the indoor arena could look like.
Current plans call for a two-story, 87,092-square-foot building with three classroom and lab space, a rodeo team room, bleacher seating for 1,035 people and a 37,500-square-foot arena.
Turner said the national championship-caliber rodeo team is in need of an arena following years without a permanent home.
“It puts us in the ranks of Alabama and Georgia and Clemson and Oklahoma [in terms of football],” he said. “And yet we have no place for our team to stable their horses or even practice on a day-to-day basis.”
While BMCC will be free to schedule events for most of the year, Turner said the Round-Up would be given priority scheduling for two weeks during its annual rodeo. During those weeks, the Round-Up could use it for things like warm-up space and temporary offices.
In an inteview before the meeting, Round-Up Publicity Director Randy Thomas said discussions with the college haven’t advanced beyond “generalities,” and is waiting for more definitive plans from BMCC before proceeding.
Although the Round-Up Association recently acquired more property, Thomas said the exact location of the indoor arena is still being determined by a facilities committee.
Pendleton Convention Center Manager Pat Beard is a FARM II advocate, saying an indoor arena could bring events during the lean tourism months from November through March.
If the arena brought in 10 events during those months, Beard estimated it would bring in $2 million in direct tourism spending and $40,000 in direct revenue to the city through its two taxes on hotel rooms.
While most of that money would go to the convention center for maintenance and operations, about $6,300 would go to the general fund, according to Beard’s calculations. The general fund pays for services like police, fire, the public library and parks.
Councilor Paul Chalmers, the Umatilla County director of assessment and taxation, said the city would also lose some revenue because the arena would be exempt from property taxes.
After the state committed $5 million, Umatilla County and the Port of Umatilla each agreed to chip in $150,000. Preus is asking the city to do the same.
To raise the rest of the money, Preus and Turner said BMCC would eventually have to mount a public fundraising campaign.
City Manager Robb Corbett said the city would have to use money set aside from the sale of the Keystone RV property, which has a current balance of $400,000.
Councilor Neil Brown said the city would be investing in a project without a lot of direct return back to the city in the form of funding for essential services, like street repair. He said Pendleton was playing the role of party host that required them to get everything ready. Councilor Scott Fairley said he was uncomfortable spending that much money given the city’s current budget.
Councilor Dale Primmer said these views were looking at the project the wrong way.
“We talk about what these investments cost us rather than what the value to the community is,” he said. “They’re not the same thing.”
Primmer said it might hurt the community more to see projects go out of town rather than stay in Pendleton if the council passes on investing in them.
Corbett said BMCC’s $150,000 request could be considered at the next council meeting on Feb. 6.
Contact Antonio Sierra at email@example.com or 541-966-0836.