The Hermiston City Council agreed Monday night to give $600,000 to help fill the Eastern Oregon Trade & Event Center’s construction budget shortfall, but the money comes with a condition – the city wants a seat on the EOTEC board in order to have more oversight on the struggling project.
Former Hermiston City Manager and current EOTEC Board Chairman Ed Brookshier offered to step down to make room for a city administrator to serve on the board.
“My term ends at the end of the year and I’d be more than willing to resign,” Brookshier told the council.
Also appearing before the council Monday night were John Frew, CEO of the Frew Development Group that is overseeing the project; EOTEC Board member Dan Dorran; and Farm-City Pro Rodeo Board member David Bothum.
Frew told the council that the project will be built regardless of whether the budget shortball is filled or not. Without full funding, however, Frew said shortcuts will have to be made and the the end result will not be what the community is expecting. The choices, he said, are to build EOTEC with the available money or go slow and seek more funding.
The four faced some tough questions from the council members, who wanted to know why the board waited until six weeks ago to realize the $11.8 million project wouldn’t be ready for next year and why there hasn’t been more effort made to seek additional donations from corporate sponsorships.
Dorran said he took full responsibility for the delays. He said it was his recommendation to go with a process of design and build as you go, rather than accept construction bids for a design already in place. That decision meant not knowing the full costs right from the start. And, he said, like any construction project, unexpected costs popped up along the way.
Much of the discussion came after Brookshier made a request to the council for additional funding. Brookshier said the EOTEC Board is requesting $600,000 each from the city and Umatilla County, as well as $1,000,000 to be raised from local hoteliers by charging an additional $1 room tax. That would cut the $4.2 million budget gap by more than half.
Councilor John Kirwan said he didn’t think the community had faith in the board to pull off the project. He said he was willing to vote for the $600,000 donation, but he said “someone’s going to have to fall on their sword,” meaning he wanted an EOTEC board member to resign to make room for a city staff to serve on the board.
“Money comes with strings attached,” he said. “If we’re going to give $600,000, I’d like more accountability.”
Former Umatilla County Commissioner and EOTEC board member Dennis Doherty urged the council to not lose faith in the project.
“The fact is EOTEC is a reality,” he said, noting that much of the budget had already been spent, construction is under way and the infrastructure has been all but completed. To step back now, he said, would be a mistake.
“I drive by the high school football stadium every day,” he said. “And every day, I’m proud of it. The question we have to ask is, ‘Do we want a second-class facility or a first-class facility?’ Let’s build an EOTEC we can all be proud of.”
Hermiston Mayor Dave Drotzmann said the $600,000 was a good investment in the city’s economic development.
“It’s a small price to pay to make this successful,” he said.