On the outskirts of the desert town of Hermiston sits a $16 million facility that will serve as home to the Umatilla County Fair, the Farm-City Pro Rodeo, exhibits, conventions, concerts and was built without bonded debt or any new tax revenue.
How does that happen?
Because, in the words of Umatilla County Commissioner Larry Givens, “Hermiston is a can do community.”
On Friday, hundreds turned out for the grand opening of the Eastern Oregon Trade & Event Center (EOTEC) and showed their pride in the latest example of how mutually-beneficial partnerships can make big things happen in a small town.
With a wine bar and hors d’oeuvres served and music by Dallin Puzey, Friday had the feel of a warm and friendly house warming party.
Hermiston Mayor Dave Drotzmann called Friday a day to say thanks to so many who played so big a role in the opening of a facility that was literally decades in the making. Drotzmann made a point to single out numerous individuals who, over the years, worked to bring EOTEC from an idea to a reality, including the late Joe Burns and Chet Prior, who both passed away before they could see the project finished.
“They’re looking down with big smiles on their faces,” Drotzmann said.
He thanked Hermiston’s first city manager, Tom Harper, for his far-sighted vision that saw a future need for such a facility. He thanked former Umatilla County Commissioner Dennis Doherty and former Hermiston City Manager Ed Brookshier for their work on the project.
The mayor thanked current county officials, city officials, state officials, school district officials, and local organizations and businesses for stepping up when needed. Hermiston attorney George Anderson was given recognition for providing all the legal assistance at no cost.
“This could not have been accomplished without leadership, vision and fortitude,” Drotzmann said.
Friday’s grand opening celebrated the completion of Phase 1 of EOTEC, which includes the event and exhibitor center, which is 28,000 square feet in size and includes three large meeting rooms, a commercial kitchen, box office, a 12,000-square-foot great room, and has room for an additional 30,000 square feet for future expansion.
Phase 2 of the project will include constructing facilities for the fair and rodeo. EOTEC board members say all will be ready for the fair and rodeo to be held at EOTEC in the summer of 2017.
Built by the Frew Development Group, EOTEC is a joint city-county entity. The $16 million facility was paid for from the following sources:
- 2011 Lottery Grant – $6.5 million
- Sale of Existing Fairgrounds – $3 million
- 2015 Lottery Grant – $1.5 million
- County Fair Improvement Fund – $400,000
- HUD Grant (Replace Thompson Hall) – $450,000
- City of Hermiston – $600,000
- Umatilla County – $600,000
- Tourism Promotion Assessment – $1 million
- Community Fundraising – $2 million
Commissioner Givens said the many challenges to creating the facility were daunting.
“I have to admit that back in 2012 when we signed away our current fairgrounds, I was a little nervous,” he said. But, he added, Hermiston has a history of accomplishing great things, making it, what he called, “a can do community.”
Oregon State Sen. Bill Hansell also touched on Hermiston’s penchant for looking into the future and identifying needs that may not yet be apparent.
“What a visionary group of leaders you have here in Hermiston and they have passed that vision on as new people come into the community.
EOTEC already has events lined up. Hermiston City Manager Byron Smith said the League of Oregon Cities meeting later this week. Givens said the Oregon Association of Counties will tour the facility in June.
And, of course, two major events are booked for 2017 and beyond – the Umatilla County Fair and the Farm-City Pro Rodeo.
Friday, said Smith, was just the beginning.
“This is just the first step on our journey to creating EOTEC,” he said.