Pat Beard opened one of the back doors of the Pendleton Convention Center Thursday morning, achieving two things in the process: shedding some light in the Happy Canyon Room, where he can’t yet find the light switch, and providing a visual aid for one of his future ideas for the building.
The convention center doors open up to the Happy Canyon arena. And Beard likes the idea of working with the Happy Canyon Board of Directors to rent out the room (which features a bar) and the arena as one package for parties and celebrations.
Beard is finishing his first week as the convention center manager and he’s already filling a list with ideas.
Beard sits near the convention entrance, wearing his ever-present cowboy hat, as staff set up for the Linebacker’s Club Hall of Fame ceremony on Friday in the main hall.
He said the convention center needs to focus on three things — technology, food and customer service. Beard already has several ideas revolving around these basic themes, including an app that would book space at the facility, better wi-fi for events like the OSAA 2A basketball tournament, more locally-sourced catering and joining Meeting Planners International, a trade group.
For Beard, 59, it’s been a quick ascent through Pendleton’s tourism industry for a man who’s the son of a horseshoer and was doing livestock contracting as recently as 2013.
“I’m happiest on horseback, and that’s how I thought I would be forever,” he said.
Beard grew up in a “rodeo and ranch” family in Outlook, Washington, an unincorporated community just east of the Yakama Indian Reservation.
He got his first taste of the Round-Up when he was nine years old, but it wasn’t until decades later that he got his chance to make Eastern Oregon his permanent home.
In 1988, Hamley & Co. bought a rope-making company Beard co-owned and operated out of Ellensburg, Washington, and hired him temporarily to help with the transition.
“I came to Pendleton and I forgot to leave,” he said.
In the ensuing years, Beard coached the rodeo team at Walla Walla Community College, worked for his family’s stock contracting company and helped organize rodeos and other events.
With his experience in business and event planning, Beard took a job as an event recruiter for Travel Pendleton, the Pendleton Chamber of Commerce’s tourism arm.
“I went from pulling calves Nov. 10, 2013, to working for Travel Pendleton Nov. 11, 2013,” he said.
Having worked with the convention center while recruiting events to the area, Beard took a shot at the convention center manager position when it opened earlier this year.
The position had undergone some turnover since 2013, when longtime manager Pat Kennedy retired but continued to work on a contract basis.
When Kennedy left the position permanently in 2016, City Manager Robb Corbett temporarily assigned convention center duties to Steve Chrisman, the city’s economic development director and airport manager, before reversing course and re-creating the position as a full-time job when it became clear that Chrisman couldn’t handle the job on a part-time basis.
Corbett said Beard stood out because of his experience in event recruitment and familiarity with Pendleton.
“He talks about Pendleton in a way that gets people to come here,” Corbett said.
It also helps that he played a role in bringing a major event to the facility.
Eric Folkestad said he met Beard four years ago at an unmanned aerial systems conference at the convention center when he proposed the idea of starting a motorcycle rally in Pendleton.
Beard helped hook him up with Kennedy and Pendleton Bike Week was born.
The event grew in its second year and, ahead of the 2017 bike week, Folkestad involved Beard in a pitch to bring on Harley Davidson as a sponsor.
The event is now officially called Pendleton Bike Week powered by Harley Davidson, and Folkestad said the rally can now comfortably advertise itself as the largest motorcycle event in the Northwest.
Although the convention center already books 145 events over 210 days per year, Beard said he’s looking for more events that bring people from outside town.
Those visitors are more likely to stay in one of the Pendleton area’s 1,200 rooms, which literally helps the convention center pay its bills.
The convention center is supported through two lodging taxes — the Tourism Promotion Assessment Charge and the Transit Room Tax. Combined, the taxes are expected to produce $ 604,000 in convention center revenue over the course of the current fiscal year.
But beyond whatever Pendleton’s facilities can offer, Beard said the city itself is the biggest selling point for event coordinators, a community hospitality honed through more than a century of Round-Ups.
“Our town is like Mayberry, but our Taylor is Til, not Andy,” he said.
Although Beard’s current job binds him to an office, he isn’t completely divorced from his previous life.
Beard lives with his girlfriend, Stephanie, in a home north of Helix. And he still has time to attend 20 cattle brandings each year.
Contact Antonio Sierra at [email protected] or 541-966-0836.
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