Sponsored: Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center celebrates 100 years of memory making.
Central Oregon’s high desert draws visitors for its snow-capped peaks, sunshine, outdoor adventures, sweeping views and, of course, the world-class event hub tucked right in the middle of it all: the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center.
Since 1919 families have traveled to Redmond, Oregon, for the Deschutes County Fair & Rodeo; and while its traditional roots remain stronger than ever, a humble fair has blossomed into a buzzing center of year-round activity.
Back in 2000 — catalyzed by the move from a 16-acre to a 460-acre parcel of land, updated facilities and new management — the team adopted a whole new approach perhaps best illustrated by the addition of “Expo Center” to the end of its name.
“Local folks call us the fairgrounds, but we are much more than that. We are a phenomenal nationally sought after expo facility utilized by every type of industry, including Olympic sports teams,” explains Elyse West, Fair & Expo marketing.
First Interstate Bank Center
A home for groups of 25 to 25,000
Although the Expo Center has hosted Trailblazers games, national RV rallies, elite rodeos, USA climbing championships, concerts and, most importantly, the annual Deschutes County Fair & Rodeo the Deschutes Expo team will be the first to remind you that it welcomes events of any size.
“We really can do it all! We host groups of 25 to 25,000,” explains Roxia Thornton Todoroff, sales & marketing coordinator. “We can seamlessly host a baby shower, a tradeshow and a motocross or equestrian event at the same time, while providing first class catering and concessions for each.”
Its massive facility includes 200 acres of parking with 4,000 spots at the entrance alone, 200,000 square feet of flexible indoor space and one of the largest commercial kitchens in Central Oregon, capable of catering a 1,200-person sit-down dinner.
Such scale is difficult to visualize, but, in a nutshell, the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center can accommodate almost any event an organizer can dream of. While the facility’s sheer size is impressive, what makes it unique is the ability to scale up or down without impacting quality. By operating with a flexible approach to craft memorable events tailored to the vision, needs and budgets of clients, the Expo Center achieves that rare combination of scalable and customizable event space.
Managing the smallest details on the largest scale
“We sit down and create a package with everything needed from start to finish; from customized floor plans and maps to set-up and rental equipment,” explains Dan Despotopulos, former director. This month, after nearly 20 years at the helm, he passed the baton to the new director, Geoff Hinds, who brings with him extensive experience in the industry, specifically as Director of the San Bernardino County Fair.
The First Interstate Bank Center — an 80,000-square-foot indoor multi-purpose venue with a 10,000-seat capacity (again, think big!) — can be converted from the Expo-owned NBA regulation basketball court to a dirt arena in record time.
“Last year, we had country artist Gary Allan perform on Saturday night. The show ended at 9 p.m., and by 9 a.m. the entire space was cleared so that we could bring in 3,000 yards of dirt to set up one of the nation’s largest cutting horse events in the Northwest,” Thornton Todoroff notes.
Rodeo event at the Clark County Fair and Expo Center
In order to successfully host 400 events each year, the staff of 12 relies on decades of experience in logistics coordination, event management and community engagement.
Although the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center hosts a wide spectrum of events, its capacity makes it particularly relevant to four key industries: (1) RV rallies (picture a 105-site RV park surrounded by landscaped lawns and snowcapped peaks); (2) equestrian and livestock with their premier 400-stall barn complex; (3) sporting events at its two customizable arenas; and (4) meetings and conventions in its 114,000 sq. ft. flexible space and highly rated in-house Food & Beverage department.
A leading U.S. expo center fit for the future
While most first-time visitors would be struck by the venue’s size and excellent condition, its leadership continues seeking improvements and looking ahead, recently announcing an upcoming expansion.
The site’s 34,000-square-foot Three Sisters Conference Center, which regularly hosts meetings, award banquets and trainings, is slated to be both enlarged and upgraded. The facility’s connectivity and audiovisual technology, ideal for filming and broadcasting events or leading interactive seminars, will also receive updates as part of the project.
Recognizing the growth of both industries in the area, and the number of annual events at the Expo Center each year, three new hotels are currently being built within walking distance, adding to the over 7,500+ rooms already available in the region. To capitalize this, the Expo team aims to strengthen that fourth pillar: meetings and conventions.
“We’re in this great position today because we’re constantly trying to do the best we can. We’re always learning and improving,” Despotopulos says. “Last year, we received feedback that people wanted easier access to water beyond just drinking fountains so we installed water bottle fill stations throughout the grounds. Our event surveys show a very positive reception to this addition.”
The team asks guests to complete surveys after each event. Although nearly all of them come back highly positive, anything less than top marks garners immediate follow up, a driver of the facility’s long-term success and its slew of regularly returning clients — from the Cascades Futurity and Aged cutting horse event to the Oregon Wrestling Classic.
Oregon Wrestling Classic in the First Interstare Bank Center
Clients reaching out to the Expo Center will be met by a responsive, collaborative team, which relies on its experience to seamlessly turn their vision into reality. Operating as coordinators, project managers or whatever role the organizer needs, staff and volunteers work as a cohesive unit.
As a one-stop shop for large or small-scale events, the facility can provide food, beverages, catering, high-speed fiber-based Wi-Fi connectivity, media equipment, lighting, sound, furniture, concessions and everything in between. It also supports advertising efforts through billboards, social media, and strong partnerships with tourism organizations in the region.
Part of the community
With an estimated annual economic impact of roughly $45 million, the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center is first and foremost a member of the community, regularly offering their space for meaningful events, such as the region’s high school graduations (20+ years) Presidential visits and the recent memorial of Robert Maxwell, the last living WWII medal of honor recipient.
When Oregon is faced with any type of disaster the facility makes itself available, for example by hosting animals or, as was the case during the eclipse, serving as a multi-agency command center. Such cost-free or reduced-cost roles come out to a half million dollars of annual giving.
“We try to do everything we can to help our community. We feel that’s part of why we’re here,” Despotopulos says. “We engage with our community and vice versa, creating a sense of pride. Folks know we support our neighbors and that they don’t have to drive anywhere because we can host quality events right here in their backyard.”
The Expo Center hosts a wide range of activities, including car racing and conventions.
Thornton Todoroff and Despotopulos both previously served on the Redmond Chamber of Commerce and the team regularly touches base with the surrounding community to ensure that everyone benefits from the Expo Center.
Part of that community commitment means keeping the annual Deschutes County Fair & Rodeo accessible. During the event, free shuttle services run regularly from from Redmond, as well as the neighboring cities of Bend and Sisters. In 2000, the team made the decision to reduce the fair from six days to five and include entertainment including national level touring concerts as part of the overall price. By doing so, it managed to remain affordable ($13 for 5-12-year-olds and $22 for adults) while increasing revenue from $675,000 in 2000 to $1.8 million in 2018.
Deschutes County Fair & Rodeo celebrates its centennial, July 31-August 4, 2019
As the Expo Center expands, it remains conscious of its environmental responsibility, mitigating impacts through its shuttle service, solar-powered event buildings, comprehensive recycling programs, livestock material composting and reusable water bottles.
This year’s investments in the Expo Center aim to multiply the area’s stream of visitors, further solidifying Central Oregon as a leading U.S. event hub. Already well connected through a nearby airport and with no direct neighbors, there is plenty of room to grow for years to come.
Circus and rodeo events round out a busy roster of events at the Deschutes County Fair
While Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center may have its sights set on the future, between July 31 and August 4, 2019, the Fair and Rodeo will celebrate 100 years of making history in Central Oregon and, perhaps more importantly, making memories.
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