PENDLETON — Pendleton’s cut of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act hasn’t dropped into its account yet, but the city’s various tourism interests were already ready with a presentation.
Dubbed “Pendleton Comes Alive,” the plan called for the city to use $250,000 from Pendleton’s federal stimulus payment to boost the local tourism industry. Led by Pendleton Economic Development Director Steve Chrisman, including representatives from the Pendleton Convention Center, the Pendleton Chamber of Commerce and the Pendleton Round-Up Association, the group thinks it can help the city’s tourism recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic by creating new initiatives like horse and buggy rides and sending people dressed in Western garb downtown to interact with tourists.
Addressing the Pendleton City Council at a Tuesday, April 13, meeting, Chrisman said one of Pendleton’s shortcomings with tourism is that it didn’t offer many of the Western experiences people are familiar with during Round-Up week.
“For one week a year we underpromise and overdeliver the greatest show on grass,” Chrisman’s slideshow states. “For (11 and 3/4) months per year, we grossly overpromise and grossly underdeliver.”
Chrisman and the group’s solution for this “horrible injustice” was to expand Pendleton’s offerings during high-tourism months in spring and summer. Besides the buggies and the Western actors, some of the ideas that would be introduced include adding regular bar hours at the Pendleton Underground Tours speakeasy and the Let’er Buck Room, placing six covered wagons around town, and holding guided tours of the Round-Up Grounds.
Once these concepts were put into place, the group anticipated bringing in 54,000 new visitors to Pendleton by Year 5.
Chrisman said the $250,000 would be a one-time investment, with the new concepts funded by eventually charging for some of the services and the revenue that would be generated from new overnight stays via the city’s lodging taxes.
“This is going to seem like a tiny sum if it accomplishes even a fraction of what I think it’s capable of accomplishing,” Chrisman said.
The council seemed receptive to the group’s pitch, but didn’t fully commit to the project’s price tag.
City Manager Robb Corbett praised the group’s efforts while also going over some of the less flashy options that were on the table.
Corbett said the general fund — the pot of money that funds services like police, fire and parks — has shrunk in recent years, and the city could use the stimulus to help shore it up.
Additionally, the city had millions of dollars worth of deferred maintenance on city facilities, including critical repairs at the Vert Auditorium and at the Pendleton Aquatic Center.
Councilor Dale Primmer liked the idea of stabilizing the general fund, pointing out that the region’s increasingly erratic weather had put Pendleton through multiple emergencies.
“We have to sit on some capital to deal with these emerging situations,” he said.
Ultimately, the council liked the idea of investing its $1.7 million in tourism, infrastructure and the general fund, but it didn’t commit firm dollar amounts to these priorities.