East-side boosters say convention-goers need a headquarters hotel

Frustrated by the lack of a headquarters hotel next to a bigger, better Oregon Convention Center, east-side real estate and tourism leaders are trying to make it happen sooner rather than later.

They say the convention center's potential Ñ at almost 1 million square feet, the Northwest's largest Ñ won't be realized until a headquarters hotel is built nearby.

They also say a wait until 2008 or 2009 for a hotel Ñ as suggested by the Portland Development Commission Ñ is too long.

'We are a headquarters hotel short on this side of the river,' said the center's executive director, Jeffrey Blosser.

Ashforth Pacific Inc. sent a map last week to tenants, partners, associates and friends that outlines one possible three-block site for a convention center hotel.

'There's not a lack of developers or financiers in the U.S. who specialize in developing and financing convention center hotels,' said Ashforth Pacific President Scott Langley, who is on the advisory board to the convention center. 'Several have been swarming Portland in the last year or two to align themselves.

'I'm not sure they are getting the 'Welcome mat is out' response. Eventually they get frustrated and move on to the next one. It's something that needs to be dealt with today.'

Blosser called the lack of a sizable headquarters hotel the biggest cause of lost convention business for Portland, and the factor that will keep the city from realizing the maximum economic impact from the expanded convention center.

'If we're going to be a player, we've got to have the room inventory in place for that to happen,' he said.

Convention-goers 'want to be able to access the convention center from their hotel,' Langley said. 'It's a proximity thing.'

He stressed that his company isn't seeking to be involved in siting, developing or constructing a headquarters hotel.

Blosser said it's all about numbers: A convention that attracts 4,500 people might require 2,000 or more hotel rooms, which presently means parceling the people attending among 10 or 11 hotels. And that's an improvement from earlier, because the west side's new Hilton Portland's Executive Tower, which expanded the Hilton to 785 rooms, eased the problem somewhat.

Previously, Blosser said, a similar-sized convention might have meant convention-goers staying in 17 or 18 hotels.

'It really depends on the group,' he said. 'Some groups are OK with being in several properties. Some groups, if you don't have a headquarters hotel, you don't even get the bid.' Ideally, he said, a 4,500-person convention would mean using only three or four hotels, including a headquarters hotel with perhaps 550 to 600 rooms.

In February, the PDC opted to go slow on pushing for development of a headquarters hotel, citing concerns that it would adversely affect Portland's already overcrowded hotel market.

A draft market analysis on development of a headquarters hotel suggested interim measures: upgrading rooms in existing nearby hotels to convention center quality; having hoteliers establish a citywide room contract; and easing the problem of transporting convention-goers from downtown, where the bulk of hotel rooms are, to the convention center.

Blosser said the board of the Portland Oregon Visitors Association, recently adopted the recommendations of the market study's recommendations. But he also said that shouldn't preclude a move to build a headquarters hotel.

PDC Executive Director Don Mazziotti said in February that it could be 2008 or 2009 before a headquarters hotel is built. Blosser said he views Mazziotti's remark, along with PDC board members' voiced worries that a headquarters hotel might adversely affect existing Portland hotels, as a signal that 'we need to get everybody up to speed on the study.'

That includes not only the PDC board but also the Metro Council and the Portland City Council, he said.

'What I think is that the PDC has a lot of irons in the fire Ñ at the last count, plus or minus 400 projects,' Langley said. 'They have limited resources, they have good people. You might come to the conclusion that they're spread too thin, and as a result they have to create some priorities of focus. Those aren't always market-driven.'

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