Baker City project leads Stryker Field park by large margin, but Moda reps say a win still possible

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Moda Health and the Portland Trail Blazers paid a visit to local schools last fall.

The voting time window for the Moda Assist program has passed the halfway mark, and creative campaigns and record-setting numbers have set this competition apart.

Prineville was chosen as one of three finalists for the program that partners Moda Health with the Portland Trail Blazers to benefit a project in a local community. Online voting will determine which of the three finalist communities receives funds to help construct a new playground in their town. Moda Health will commit $20 per basketball assist in Blazers games throughout the current NBA season to the winning community and project.

Voting opened Feb. 20, and finalist Baker City surged out to an early lead that they have not relinquished. Prineville has held second place, and third finalist Independence has trailed for most of the contest.

The Crook County Parks and Recreation District applied to receive funding from the Moda Assist Program for a proposed state-of-the-art playground that would be built on Stryker Field adjacent to the incoming community splash pad.

Plans to build a new playground first originated about seven months ago, according to Duane Garner, executive director to the Parks and Recreation District. Recognizing that the "Castle Park" playground, which was built in the mid-1990s, was reaching the end of its shelf life, Linda Haden, board chair of the Parks and Recreation Foundation and the one who spearheaded the Castle Park project in the 1990s, launched an effort to add the new attraction.

The playground project is going head-to-head against a project to improve playground equipment at Baker City's Geiser Pollman Park to make it accessible for children with disabilities, and development of an all-access playground and park in Independence.

People can cast an online vote for their favorite project every day. As of Monday morning, Baker City's project had won 44,212 votes, and Prineville was in second place with 30,979, while the Independence project had received just 12,773 votes.

Once voting opened on Feb. 20, many different individuals and organizations worked to get the word out and convince as many people to vote for the Prineville project as possible. Numerous people posted reminders on Facebook, urging people to cast a vote.

"We have promoted pretty heavily through social media with posts and paid campaigns, as well as making it an 'event' that spans the entire life of the voting campaign," said Kim Daniels, executive director of the Prineville-Crook County Chamber of Commerce. "We have mentioned it at each of our Chamber gatherings — Perks, After Hours and miscellaneous meetings. I contacted all of the larger businesses in the area to send an email blast out to their staff or post online to their internal company sites."

Daniels added that she is part of a Facebook group for all chamber executives nationally and beyond and posted on that page for support. In addition, she got in touch with the Redmond Chamber, whose city was the recipient of funds for a park last year, and asked them to reach out to their membership to vote for the Prineville project.

"They also created a few social media posts and have asked their community to support us and vote," she said.

Daniels said the Chamber has pushed the program because Prineville needs a new park. She points out that the Castle Park is outdated and not ADA friendly.

"With the splash pad being completed, a new park would be a welcome addition to complement the downtown area, which many have been working to revive," she said. "It would be great for not only the locals, but a draw to families considering visiting Prineville."

The City of Prineville got involved in promoting the program as well, although they are more limited in what level of support they can provide to an individual group or cause.

"We created a post on our Facebook page and when I got the notice that the voting had opened, I sent it out city-wide to all staff members," said City Recorder Lisa Morgan, who added that she personally casts a vote each day.

Morgan said the city is providing support because the municipality has partnered with the Parks and Recreation District on a variety of parks. The city owns the land for multiple parks and recently approved use of Stryker Field, which it also owns, for construction of a splash pad as well as the proposed playground. Most recently, the city and parks district reached an agreement to team up on a citywide parks master plan.

"It just seems fitting that we would help support them and what they are trying to accomplish," Morgan said.

Meanwhile, the parks district is making a significant push to collect votes. Recreation Coordinator Eli Tomlinson said that he has conducted regional radio and TV interviews to spread word about the program to Prineville and throughout Central Oregon. In addition, office assistant Hannah Hamlin has created a daily reminder Facebook post to keep its followers voting on a regular basis.

"We have partnered with the schools and the Chamber," Tomlinson added.

Though a little more than a week remains until the voting deadline and Baker City's project has a substantial lead, representatives of the program point out that a lot can happen in a short period of time.

"We have always seen some sort of surge, at least from one of the other two cities, from the middle to the end," said Karis Stoudamire-Phillip, corporate social responsibility director for Moda Health. "So it's not over."

She went on to note that the current contest is already in new territory in terms of voter participation. Never has a contest generated 20,000 votes between two cities in the first week, so it is hard to draw from past contests to guess the outcome of the Baker City-Prineville race.

"Participation is huge," she remarked.

Stoudamire-Phillip went on to note that Prineville leaders brought a lot of good promotion ideas to the table when they were chosen as a finalist. She said that most times, program organizers will supply communities with ideas, but it was clear after communicating with Prineville representatives that such assistance wasn't really necessary.

"We have been encouraged by the ideas," she said.


To vote for the Prineville playground project, go to People can vote online every day until March 20. Those voting for the first time will receive an email asking for confirmation of their vote.

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