Downtown Update

The Vert Auditorium was awarded a grant to restore their crumbling staircase by the Oregon Main Street Network. Acting as the development commission, members of the Pendleton City Council approved a $32,591 match for a $70,362 grant from an Oregon Heritage Commission for repairs to the Vert Auditorium at a meeting on Tuesday.

PENDLETON — A debate over $32,591 proved contentious enough that the chairman and the vice chairman of the Pendleton Development Commission found themselves on opposite sides of a 5-4 vote.

Acting as the development commission, members of the Pendleton City Council approved a $32,591 match for a $70,362 grant from an Oregon Heritage Commission for repairs to the Vert Auditorium at a meeting on Tuesday.

Officials worry that if the deteriorating sidewalks, steps, and ramps to the city-owned auditorium aren’t repaired soon, a patron could get injured and create serious liability for the city.

Mayor John Turner spoke in favor of the project.

“I think we set a bad precedent if we don’t fund this,” he said. “I think there will be other public projects in the next two to three to four years that will come up, that we don’t anticipate today, that we’re going to want to support.”

While no one contested the need to make repairs at the Vert, some councilors argued that agreeing to the match upset the 75-25 split between funding private projects and public projects the commission previously agreed to, especially in light of $1.5 million the commission approved for street repairs in July.

Councilor Scott Fairley, the vice chair of the commission, said city officials kept returning to the urban renewal district to fund infrastructure maintenance.

Fairley thought the Vert renovations were important projects that needed to be done, but funding it would be a misuse of urban renewal money that should go toward blight reduction and property tax revenue.

“If we do this project, we are creating a very dangerous precedent,” he said, contrasting himself with Turner. “Because I will tell you that there’s a never-ending spigot of city projects where maintenance has been deferred and they see a pot of money to help solve revenue problems that the city hasn’t been able to address.”

After reading the staff report for the grant match, Councilor Becky Marks said she wished she hadn’t voted for the street funding.

“The whole point of (the urban renewal district) was to try and increase the tax base,” she said. “Streets aren’t going to increase the tax base. I think this project at the Vert is very important. Stairs aren’t going to increase the tax base.”

When called for a vote, Fairley, Marks and councilors Dale Primmer and McKennon McDonald voted against the grant match while the rest of the council voted for it.

Councilor Paul Chalmers, the commission chair, ended up being the deciding vote. After voting to approve funding for the match, Chalmers said he didn’t want to renege on a grant agreement the city’s already made, but added that future public projects that came before the commission would be scrutinized to a greater degree.

The commission also made changes to the requirements for its upper story grant program.

At Associate Director Charles Denight’s suggestion, members unanimously axed its $200,000 cap. The commission did maintain the grant’s requirement that its amount can be no more than 40% of the project’s cost.

Denight said the $200,000 could be an insufficient incentive for developers of large-scale projects.

After the commission meeting ended, members reconvened as the city council and took action on a few different items.

• The council unanimously approved a contract with Axon Enterprise to provide body cameras and data storage services for the Pendleton Police Department.

The $62,000 cost will be covered by the city and a U.S. Department of Justice grant.

Police Chief Stuart Roberts said he chose to enter the police department into a two-year contract instead of a long-term deal because he wanted to use the initial contract to evaluation Axon’s cost and effectiveness.

“If I don’t see a return on the investment, then we walk away from it,” he said.

The council also unanimously approved two resolutions that will move around money for a $3 million U.S. Economic Development Administration grant that will go toward an industrial park at the Pendleton Unmanned Aerial Systems Range.

The resolutions create a new UAS Airport Improvements Projects Fund to track the money that goes toward the EDA projects, and authorize a $2.25 million loan that will be reimbursed by the grant.

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