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In Lloyd District, let's aim high

MY VIEW • The convention center area is all some visitors see

There are thousands of people every week flowing in and out of the Oregon Convention Center area like the tide … from the Barbershop Quartet international convention to the Portland International Auto Show.

While in town, the majority of these conventioneers never leave the Lloyd District. They stay scattered about in various hotels spending free time at the Lloyd Center shopping or catching a movie.

The adventurous head downtown to see and experience what Portland has to offer, but ultimately, they are here for a convention, not vacation. In addition to the conventiongoers, many travelers experience the Lloyd District via MAX before entering the central city.

The overall perception from Portlanders and visitors alike is that the Lloyd District, specifically the immediate area around the convention center, lacks an identity or a sense of place. It is an urban collage of surface parking lots, hotels with hidden entrances, seemingly abandoned buildings, gravel-filled lots and fast-food joints creating a pedestrian experience that is truly unfriendly.

The Portland Development Commission, Metro and the city of Portland have initiated immense infrastructure improvements in the district, but a predominant element is still missing.

Metro has taken the understandably controversial first steps toward building a 600-room hotel across the street from the convention center.

However, the questions should go beyond the financing of the proposed headquarters hotel. The questions should be how to organize the Lloyd District while welcoming the rest of the world to the city of Portland and the state of Oregon.

All of the proposed urban projects for the area - including the headquarters hotel, the east-side streetcar, the award-winning Lloyd Crossing and the Oregon Convention Center Blocks - could and should be revolutionary.

By creating a sustainable and vibrant district through implementation of these projects, visitors would receive a remarkable first experience of Portland.

The headquarters hotel will become the catalyst project igniting all other projects on the many underutilized properties in the district. It will provide a focal point between the Lloyd Center and the Rose Quarter, organizing and connecting the various elements of the district.

One of the key elements is the Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard-Grand Avenue corridor, which will be transformed by the addition of a better pedestrian environment, new local restaurants and retailers featuring local wares.

For the hotel to be truly successful, the Lloyd District landowners must improve their partnerships and make the countless planning studies come to fruition. They must be willing to replace the many underutilized properties with the proposed urban projects.

All of these projects, including the hotel, are contingent upon one another's success.

The issue is not solely about financing the construction and operation of the hotel, but rather the economic and development potential it should provide. Metro, the Portland Oregon Visitors Association and other various organizations must fulfill their promises of attracting bigger and more diverse conventions.

If they aim higher and succeed beyond expectations, the headquarters hotel will be successful on its own.

Ultimately, this success will help the overall hospitality industry grow, create jobs and enhance the regional economy.

Portland has a tremendous amount to offer with immense potential for residents and visitors alike. Whether people are here for a convention, vacation, business or as residents, that potential needs to be exposed at Portland's front door.

Chris LoNigro is a designer at DiLoreto Architecture and has been active in developmental planning within the Lloyd District, where he lives.