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'If they don't, we won't'

With 10,000 members, the Medford-based Oregon Hunters Association is the largest of its ilk in Oregon and this group knows how to party.

Hundreds of them gather annually for a state convention and auction that is the organization's largest fundraiser. About 10 percent of its members live in the Rogue Valley, so a natural fit for this year's convention is ... Lincoln City?

"There's no (space) availability, nothing where you can have enough round tables for over 500 people and a carpeted floor," says Duane Dungannon, the OHA's state coordinator. "We're not going to the armory where there's concrete floors and pipes overhead."

A new convention center in or around Medford could change that, but until then there will be no home cooking at its convention.

"I can't say we would if they built it," he says. "But I can definitely say, if they don't, we won't."

When it comes to attracting conventions, size does matter.

Groups and organizations such as OHA in need of larger venues are bypassing Medford, and this Southern Oregon hub won't even be on their radar screens until Medford's facilities can match what they get elsewhere.

"They just don't fit," says Senior Vice President Anne Jenkins of Travel Medford, which is contracted to provide support for the city's tourism industry. "We try not to make a big deal about it and we don't try to go after those groups.

"We go after groups that do fit," Jenkins says.

Travel Oregon targets smaller associations to house their conferences here, either in a single venue or sprinkled around to satellite facilities that include the Medford Armory, the Jackson County Expo and even occasionally to the downtown Medford public library's conference rooms for meetings and seminars, Jenkins says.

"We look for those groups that fit into the places we have," she says. 

Fifteen years ago, one of those groups was a bodybuilding and physique competition in Medford sanctioned by the Oregon National Physique Committee. Susan Smith of RKSmith Productions says the competition was losing interest among competitors, so her company bought it and moved it to the Seven Feathers Casino Convention Center in Canyonville an hour north on Interstate 5.

Smith and her husband, Ron, both former competitors, have boosted that event to where they host anywhere from 250 to 374 competitors and pack 1,000 people into Seven Feathers' main facility for their annual show, Susan Smith says.

"We fill the room," she says.

The Smiths produce a similar show annually at the Chinook Winds Casino outside Lincoln City. Medford isn't even on their radar.

"There's nothing there that we'd be able to do it in now," Smith says. "We wouldn't want to go to a high school or something like that."

Medford's hotel facilities make it more attractive than Seven Feathers, where hotel overflows end up 30 minutes away in Roseburg, Smith says. But even if Medford had a large enough facility to hold the show, Smith says they would be hesitant to move.

"It's that much further south to come to Medford," Smith says. "We have a lot of competitors from up north and it adds that much more to their trip."

The 1,800-member Oregon Cattlemen's Association, however, would love working Medford into its rotation of meetings and conventions should a venue present itself. 

"If there was a convention center in Medford, it would definitely be something we'd consider," says Kayli Hanley, the association's communications director.

The association holds its main winter meeting in Eastern Oregon, which is more centralized for the majority of its members, and that draws more than 300 people, Hanley says. With proper facilities, Medford would be in line for a rotating summer meeting that generates about 150 or more attendees, Hanley says.

To date, the best Medford could do for the cattlemen's association was a quarterly board meeting in September 2014 that drew far fewer than 100 people to the Rogue Regency Inn, Hanley says.

The OHA's Dungannon says that the group likes to switch off its convention from Northern Oregon to Southern Oregon annually, and in recent years the affair has toggled between the same venues used by Smith's bodybuilders — Chinook Winds and Seven Feathers.

Besides sporting enough room, the facilities appeal to more of the OHA family, Dungannon says. Most members are men and there is a strong contingent of them who regularly attend the convention, and it takes more than a big banquet hall to attract members' families, he says.

"Moms like casinos and beaches, and Medford doesn't have either," Dungannon says.

The Coquille Indian Tribe is trying to change half of that with its proposed casino eyed at the south end of Medford.

As for having a banquet facility like a convention center to marry with the casino, the OHA will keep its approach that if Medford builds it, they might come.

"We'd take a look at it for something different because we have such a strong presence here," Dungannon says.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.