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Pull the plug on hotel idea

In pursuing an ill-advised headquarters hotel for the Oregon Convention Center, officials from the Metro regional government have, in essence, been trying to keep up with the Joneses.

Or more precisely, they have been trying to keep pace with the Denvers, Austins and Phoenixes.

The rationale for building a $200 million-plus headquarters hotel always has been about making Portland a major-league city for conventions. Without a headquarters hotel, the argument goes, Portland is losing the biggest and most lucrative conventions to its better-equipped competitors.

Based on that economic justification, first the city of Portland and more recently the Metro Council have funded studies, held meetings and negotiated with developers for several years to try to bring a 600-room headquarters hotel to property across from the Metro-owned convention center.

We believe, however, that economic arguments are now working against the headquarters hotel concept, which at this point would be publicly financed and privately operated. The Metro Council should pull the plug next week on a project that has no assured benefits for taxpayers and could end up costing the public a bundle.

The most recent obstacle to progress on a headquarters hotel is the unraveling of the nation's financial system. Metro Councilor Rod Park, who has taken the lead role in pushing the hotel proposal forward, says tighter credit markets make it doubtful that Metro or the city of Portland can obtain the bond financing necessary to build the hotel.

Portland officials and the Metro Council, which will consider the matter Dec. 18, may see the financing glitch simply as a setback. But at this point, we view it as a blessing in disguise for taxpayers. Like a home buyer who is about to bite off a bigger mortgage than he or she can afford, taxpayers could have been on the hook for subsidizing a headquarters hotel that would operate at a deficit potentially for decades.

That's not to say there aren't good arguments for having a large convention hotel - but this isn't a project that has ever enjoyed unwavering support, beyond the offices of Metro or City Hall.

As for the notion that Portland needs to keep up with other cities, that seems like a very un-Portland argument in itself. Portland has built its national reputation around the idea that it does things differently - moving conventioneers from hotels to the convention center with free MAX rides is just one example.

We concede it's possible Portland could lose convention business due to the fact that it doesn't have a hotel directly linked to the convention center. But we think the bigger risk is that taxpayers would be saddled with an ongoing subsidy with no quantifiable payback to the public.