Blue Mountain Conference Center

The Union County Chamber of Commerce is not seeking to renew its contract to manage the Blue Mountain Conference Center, La Grande.

LA GRANDE — The Blue Mountain Conference Center is on the hunt for new management. 

The Union County Chamber of Commerce, which has managed the Blue Mountain Conference Center in La Grande for nine years, announced Monday it will not renew its contract for providing management services for the center. The contract expires July 1.

The chamber wants to pursue other projects more in line with its mission, said chamber executive director Suzannah Moore-Hemann, such as boosting the chamber's membership and helping local businesses and the economy thrive. Moore-Hemann also said the chamber will continue working to help the Blue Mountain Conference Center excel.

"It's a huge community asset," she said.

The expansive building is a community events center and the home of La Grande's National Guard unit, the 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry. The Oregon Military Department owns the building and has a memorandum of agreement with the Blue Mountain Conference Center Foundation for the day-to-day operation of the facility.

The foundation board contracted the chamber to oversee events and activities at the facility. Now the foundation board is seeking bids for a new contractor to handle the work.

Joe Grover, president of the board, said a new contractor must in place by April 30 because of the terms of the agreement the foundation has with the Oregon Military Department. If the board does not find a replacement for the chamber by then, he said, the Oregon Military Department becomes responsible for the day-to-day operations of the building. 

Union County Commissioner Donna Beverage, a member of the foundation's board, said even under that scenario, the conference center would continue to serve as a community meeting center. She said a National Guard representative recently told this to the foundation's board.

Moore-Hemann said the chamber will do everything it can to help the next contractor get off to a smooth start.

"We want to lay the foundation for them," she said. "Our goal is to have the transition of management go so smoothly that it will not be noticed."

Grover said he believes the chamber will be a big help with the transition process. 

"I feel very good about that. This is not an acrimonious situation," he said, adding the foundation and the chamber "have had a very workable agreement."

However, he noted, the chamber has had many changes in leadership and personnel over the past nine years, hurting continuity.

"The frequent changes presented challenges," Grover said.

Much of the management service work the chamber does involves scheduling and putting on events at the Blue Mountain Conference Center. These include annual fundraising banquets for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Ducks Unlimited; the annual Festival of Trees and Santa Mall; as well as presentations, weddings and gun shows. The chamber even helps the National Guard put on banquets, reunions and more.

Grover said the conference center, which opened in 1998, was made possible by a community-wide effort. He pointed out the building is on land rented from Eastern Oregon University, and the National Guard stores much of its equipment on land Union County provides near the La Grande/Union County Airport. Grover said money from the city of La Grande and Union County's motel tax, also known as a transient room tax, goes to the Blue Mountain Conference Center Foundation to help cover the cost of day-to-day operations. 

Beverage echoed Grover's sentiment, adding that many people made donations to get the Blue Mountain Conference Center here. 

The conference center is aging and in need of maintenance. Eastern Oregon University this spring plans to start construction of a field house. Tim Seydel, an EOU vice president and the vice president of  the Blue Mountain Conference Center Foundation's board, said he does not believe the conference center will face competition from Eastern's shiny new facility.

"First and foremost, the field house is a space for students and student athletes," he said. "I don't see it as a space for banquets. It is not intended to compete with the Blue Mountain Conference Center."

The field house, he said, will not even have a kitchen, as the conference center does.

Despite the upcoming change in management, Beverage said people can still make reservations for events at the Blue Mountain Conference Center, even those scheduled past July 1.

General assignment reporter

Beats include the communities of North Powder, Imbler, Island City and Union, education, Union County veterans programs and local history. Dick joined The Observer in 1983, first working as a sports and outdoors reporter.

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