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Port asks: ‘How useful is the HR Expo Center?’

By SUE RYAN

News staff writer

October 7, 2006

The Port of Hood River has decided once again to delve into the question of “How useful is the Expo Center?”

The port has announced a series of October meetings involving stakeholders in the center followed by a public forum Nov. 9. The final report should be presented to the port commission by their Dec. 5 meeting.

“The Expo Center has played a very useful role over the years,” said Michael McElwee, the port’s executive director. “However, the building loses substantial money and the question for stakeholders is whether the Expo Center can contribute in a more significant way to both the waterfront users and the local economy.”

Stakeholders include other government agencies, event facility owners such as hotels, the fairgrounds, armory and event sponsors.

Questions being asked of stakeholders and users are posted on the port’s Web site at www.portofhoodriver.com.

Anyone wanting to comment on the issue can answer the questions and submit them to the port via e-mail.

The direction to examine the issue now comes from the port commission. Marketing Director Mike Doke said the budget committee has advised the commissioners for the past three to four years to look at the issue.

He said the port currently loses $60,000 a year on subsidizing the building for utilities and maintenance.

“While it rents for 40 out of 52 weekends a year, those are frequently only Friday or Saturday — but just the weekends, not the week,” Doke said.

Dr. Chuck Bugge will facilitate the October stakeholder sessions, which will focus on the Expo Center’s current condition and use today, its impact in the community and alternative ideas for the future. Bugge is former superintendent of Hood River County School District.

Doke said that one need pressing the port is the scarcity of industrial land in Hood River for development.

The question of the Expo Center being under-used goes further back than the recent recommendations of the budget committee. In news stories from 2000, the port has grappled with paying out more in operating costs than the building brings in.

The site underwent a $1 million renovation in 1996. In December 1999, the port discussed mothballing the facility.

The site was originally a Clark Door manufacturing plant and was known briefly as the Waterfront Centre before becoming the Expo Center.

Some of the events held in 2006 have included the Snow Show, Bridal Fair, Bite of the Gorge, Antique Show and the Sept. 11 Fallen Heroes Tribute. The next big event is the annual Harvest Fest, set for Oct. 20-22.

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