Centennial Plaza comes into focus

By Kathy Aney - The East Oregonian (orginally printed:  Oct. 18, 2008)

Just for a second, picture in your mind’s eye the Pendleton Round-Up grounds the way it looks as you drive by on Court Street.

In your imagination, gaze at the chain link fence, the long, narrow, treeless sidewalk and the backside of the South Grandstands, looking tired underneath coats of yellow and faded reddish-pink paint.

The east gate entrance at the Round-Up grounds,

Now, wipe it all from your mind and look at an artist’s concept of Centennial Plaza. The drawing shows quite a different scene – a streetscape, if you will.

Gone is the chain link fence, the awkward entrances and the unattractive utility lines. In their place is a black wrought-iron fence, tall trees, a 14-foot-wide walkway, underground utilities and two entry plazas at the east and west ends.

Sitting near the east gate is a monument-sized bronze of a rodeo horse in mid-buck.

Organizer Jennifer Hawkins said Austin Barton, a sculptor from Joseph, will create the bucking horse bronze for $150,000. “He did ‘Attitude Adjustment’ at Hamley’s,” she said, referring to Barton’s bronze of a horse wildly bucking as a cowboy clings to his back as though Super Glued. “He knows his horses.”

The artist, a former wrangler, is in his early 80s.

“He feels this is going to be his signature piece,” Hawkins said.

Mike Thorne, Round-Up director, is ecstatic about the future streetscape.

“It is going to be a powerful entrance to the community and the Round-Up grounds,” said Thorne, chairman of the Round-Up Association’s long-term planning committee. “With visitors coming through town, the temptation will be to pull in, stop and get out."

Thorne said the Round-Up Association and the city want Pendleton’s rodeo to maintain its world-class image.

“The vision and the image are so important,” he said. “The bar keeps getting higher – this is not my father’s rodeo anymore."


Fundraising is going at full-throttle. The RU Association is two-thirds of the way to the $1,105,078 needed to make the artist’s rendering a brick and mortar reality. 

Hawkins and Jill Thorne kicked off major money-raising efforts a year ago by writing and receiving a $232,000 Transportation Enhancement Grant. The Round-Up Association added another $186,000 and the city of Pendleton offered a $219,245 in-kind donation. In-kind donations from Charter Communications, Pacific Power and Gordon’s Electric brought in almost $100,000.

Several grand applications are pending.

The RU Association is selling sponsorships for each of the 45 brick pilasters built into the fence for $5000 each, giving first shot to current and past RU directors.

With $768,695 collected, the project is likely a fully-loaded train heading down the tracks.

“This is a go,” Mike Thorne said. “The RU Association has embraced this project – we’re fully committed and we’ll close the window on the fundraising somehow.”

Construction will happen quickly, said organizer Jill Thorne.

“It’s going to be wild,” she said. “All of this is going to be happening from June 2009 to September 2009.”

The RU property is deeded to the city of Pendleton.