Metro Councilman Rex Burkholder says there's only one thing holding up a multimillion dollar Convention Center hotel project: Financing.
Sure, there are a few other items of business Metro will have to decide upon before going forward with the hotel project, Burkholder said, but he is confident that if a financial review — due at the beginning of September — provides a way to pay off construction costs with revenue, then the Lloyd Center District will have a 600-room hotel in the next few years.
If recent feasibility and economic studies are correct, Portland will continue to lose out on millions of dollars if the hotel isn't built. But Burkholder says he is concerned with a much more practical issue. "Can it pay for itself?"
Metro is considering several options for what would be Portland's largest hotel. Located on two blocks adjacent to the Convention Center's East Side, bordered by Northeast Holladay and Oregon streets on the north and south and Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Grand Avenue on the west and east, the hotel would primarily serve the Convention Center, able to book hundreds of adjacent rooms years in advance. Metro Councilman Rod Park says the cost of the hotel will be about $150 million – raised from bonds — although that number has not been finalized. It's possible the council could vote to explore other options – allowing a privately owned hotel. This would change the Convention Center's mission from an economic generator to a local meeting center; or the hotel project could be cancelled altogether.
While there are several large hotels in the Lloyd District that have historically served conventioneers, Park said having a hotel largely devoted to that crowd will give Portland an advantage when attracting national and international conventions. For example, he says the American Wind Industry Association will be bringing 4,500 delegates to Portland in several years. The organizer for that association has booked those delegates in 28 different hotels around Portland to fit them all. A convention hotel capable of holding 500 rooms years in advance might reduce the number of hotel contracts from 28 to three.
"The sooner we make a decision about the hotel, the sooner we can start marketing it to businesses," Park said.
One of the criticisms from the hotel industry in Portland is that it would dilute the current market without drawing new business to the area. Park said while that may hold true for the first three years, the hotel should attract a new set of clientele thereafter, — but only if the hotel is of adequate size to host large conventions. A smaller, privately owned hotel – an option discussed by Metro – would still require about $75 million in public assistance yet might be unable to attract large conventions, mainly because they would be unable to book large blocks of rooms years in advance.
The Portland Development Commission supports the proposal, said Sara King, a project manager with PDC. Along with $11 million in land they have devoted to the project, the commission has set aside another $4 million that could act as either a loan or gift for the project, once Metro decides on a hotel plan. King said the commission also would retain an interest in the project after the land transfer. The PDC would craft an agreement that would ensure an environmentally friendly and pedestrian friendly design; local hiring and contracting goals; and most of all, that the project includes minority, women-owned, and emerging small businesses.
That is an issue that also concerns Metro. Burkholder and councilors Gale Castillo and Ray Leary will host an equity and empowerment workshop at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 5, at the Convention Center, room C132. The workshop will discuss how to create a project that increases opportunities for minorities and women. He said the council will look toward other public projects – such as TriMet's east side light rail expansion – on which to model their minority, women and emerging small business practice.
Public input on the project will be held throughout September, with meetings scheduled at 12:30 p.m. on Sept. 12, Convention Center, room C121; from 2 to 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 20, Metro council chambers, 600 N.E. Grand Ave.; and a vote will be taken at a meeting from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sept. 27 at the Metro council chambers