On the Town

Such a brilliant idea, who can resist?

Count on it.

The usual soreheads out there are going to tell you it's a bad idea for local government to get into the hotel business.

Especially when it comes to owning a 600-room convention center hotel, as currently being discussed by Metro.

First of all, they'll say, if it's such an all-fired good idea, why doesn't someone in the private sector - even someone in the hotel business - do it?

And second, if and when it goes down the tubes, as it easily could, won't the taxpayers be left holding the bag?

Well, you can see what we're up against.

With thinking like that, we probably wouldn't have the $57 million aerial tram, which is due to go on line later this year at Homer Williams' condo development down by the river.

Or, for that matter, the condo development itself.

• • •

I mean, do you really think the City Council members would have voted for the South Waterfront project if they thought for a moment that the citizens of this fair city realized it was going to cost $170 million in transportation infrastructure alone?

In fact, it's a tribute to the leadership abilities of then-mayor Vera Katz and her then-chief of staff Sam Adams that negative thoughts such as these never surfaced in discussions of the famed South Waterfront project.

Now if only someone with the same leadership qualities would step up today, we might be able to get this convention center hotel thing through, too.

Naturally, it's not going to be easy, if only because this whole issue has a bit of a history here in P-town - going back at least to 1990 when the original convention center was built on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard for $85 million.

The reason for building the convention center, of course, was to attract more people to Portland, so they could spend their money on restaurants and hotels.

However, not much time elapsed before it became clear that at 500,000 square feet, the convention center just wasn't doing what everybody had hoped for.

The problem, we were told, was that it wasn't big enough.

So after much finagling, the city's leaders arranged for a massive $119 million addition to the convention center, doubling its size to 1 million square feet.

The only problem being, as they quickly discovered, that the new and improved convention center was frequently empty as the mummy's tomb.

• • •

Despite all the extra room, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of conventions still weren't picking P-town as their destination of choice.

In fact, today the convention center is losing about $2 million a year.

And why? Well, to listen to the usual experts, it's because Portland doesn't have a 'headquarters' hotel, which would cost only another $100 million or so, across the street.

Never mind all the empty hotel rooms downtown.

Or the light-rail stop immediately outside the convention center entrance.

In fact, I can already hear the naysayers talking about how, when business at our fancy new headquarters hotel falls off, we'll lower the rates and pull business from the downtown hotels.

What's the matter? Haven't they ever heard of private enterprise?

Next thing you know, someone's going to say we're throwing good money after bad.

Contact Phil Stanford by phone at 503-546-5166 or by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..