PENDLETON — The Pendleton Downtown Association is now looking for its third executive director since establishing the position in 2017.
On July 23, the nonprofit announced that Executive Director Wesley Murack was resigning immediately for “personal reasons.”
A Texas native, Murack was hired by the association in late 2018 for his tourism development experience, both domestically and abroad.
Murack replaced Molly Turner, who was elevated from intern to become the organization’s first executive director in 2017. Turner quit less than a year later to take a job with Blue Mountain Community College, adding that the position needed someone with a business background.
In a press release, association President Angela Thompson highlighted some of the developments in Murack’s tenure, including obtaining a grant from the Oregon Parks and Recreation to cover renovation costs at the Vert Auditorium and the old Eagles Lodge.
One of the last events Murack organized before his departure was a series of outdoor concerts on South Main Street to help stoke business during the pandemic, but the series was cut short as COVID-19 cases rose throughout Umatilla County.
Murack could not be reached for comment, but Thompson and Pendleton Chamber of Commerce CEO Cheri Rosenberg talked about the downtown association’s future at a July 21 Pendleton Development Commission meeting.
Given the three-month gap between Murack and his predecessor, Thompson anticipated it would take three months to hire a new executive director. In the meantime, she planned to assume executive director duties, although she warned the commission that much of her attention was directed toward keeping her business, Pendleton Music Co., viable during the pandemic.
Rosenberg said many other members of the association’s governing board were in a similar situation to Thompson, splitting their time as business owners and board members. The chamber and the association have been discussing a memorandum of agreement to establish a more collaborative relationship, but Murack’s departure changed the dynamic.
“Instead of going really deep with a MOA that we’d been looking at for over a year, we kind of bagged it, given everything that’s going on,” Rosenberg said. “We started looking outside the box once Wesley put his resignation in.”
Rosenberg said the chamber wanted to keep the downtown association intact as its own organization because its status as a 501©3 nonprofit gave it access to grant funding that wasn’t available to the chamber.
Under the agreement with the chamber, the association would move its 365 S. Main St. offices a couple blocks south to the chamber offices. Rosenberg said association director position shoulders a great deal of responsibility, so the chamber would also help train and support the new director.
Rosenberg said the new hiring agreement between the chamber and downtown association will last one year before both sides reassess the relationship.
“It’s a clean-cut, very simple contract,” she said. “No real loopholes. At the end of the year, we’re either going to stick together or we’re not, and that’s OK,” she said.
The city of Pendleton has a material interest in the success of both organizations since they provide both with public funding. The chamber receives a cut from city taxes on hotel rooms, while the downtown association derives money from both urban renewal money and the general fund.