City Council Outlines Goals for Hermiston

Hermiston Council Goals
Hermiston City Councilor John Kirwan, right, offers his thoughts on economic development for the city of Hermiston during a work session earlier this week.

Hermiston’s city council, mayor and city manager spent an hour this week outlining goals for the near future and many of them center on economic development.

At a work session this week, City Manager Byron Smith sought input from the mayor and council on several issues, seeking to prioritize areas of emphasis.

And, no surprise – water topped the list. The consensus was the city needs to nurture partnerships to make sure Hermiston has access to the water it needs to keep growing.

“The west side (of the state) doesn’t fully grasp the importance of water here,” said Councilor John Kirwan. “We’re one of the only places where we can expand our farmland. There’s only one thing missing – water.” Kirwan said if Hermiston could have access to full water rights from the Columbia River, the city could add 120,000 acres of farmland.

Hermiston Mayor Dave Drotzmann emphasized the need to have a close working relationship with the Northeast Oregon Water Association (NOWA).

“We need to continue to support (NOWA) because they advocate on our behalf,” Drotzmann said. “We’re too small of a voice out here, so we need to seek partnerships to make our voice louder.”

The mayor and council also talked about the need to diversify the city’s economy, noting that while five out of every 10 jobs is directly or indirectly related to agriculture, the other five come from other sectors.

“We’re always looking for other opportunities,” Drotzmann said. “It’s important to diversify so if ag has a bad year, our overall economy doesn’t tank.”

Revitalizing the downtown area is another top priority for the city, but how to do so remains the question. The city recently created an urban renewal district to generate tax money to spruce up Main Street, but whether that ends up bringing more businesses and traffic to the downtown area remains to be seen. Part of the urban renewal program involved grants to upgrade storefront façades, but only one business within the district has applied for a grant.

“I’ve seen a lot of growth in Hermiston over the years, but I’m worried about Main Street,” said Councilor Frank Harkenrider. “It’s tough for those little businesses to make it. I don’t know what the answer is.”

Kirwan said that Hermiston, perhaps, needs to better define what it wants its downtown to look like.

“In the last 20-30 years, most businesses have built up around Highway 395,” he said. “Do we even have a clear idea of what downtown is?”

The Hermiston Senior Center will soon need to look for a new home and Harkenrider suggested one possibility would be to move it to Main Street.

“It would bring more people downtown,” he said. “It wouldn’t hurt and would probably help it quite a bit.”

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