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County approves hotel deal

by: KOIN NEWS 6 - An artist's rendering of the proposed Hyatt Hotel near the Convention Center in Northeast Portland.After years of talks and failed plans, the Convention Center Hotel project has been given an official stamp of approval.

The hotel plan has been controversial from the beginning. KOIN 6 News investigations earlier this week pointing out city and county commissioners were being asked to sign off before details are finalized.

But apparently the Multnomah County Commission and Portland City Council have enough information — because they’ve both expressed their approval.

The council signaled their support on Wednesday. On Thursday, county commissioners gave the go ahead for a publicly-funded convention center hotel to be built across the street from the Oregon Convention Center on NE MLK Boulevard.

The commissioners voted 5-0 to approve a change in the way lodging taxes are distributed in order to fund hotel construction. They also approved a memorandum of understanding with the city and Metro laying out their expectations for the project.

The commission held two hours of public comment and discussion Thursday. Much of those public comments focused on the convention center hotel’s ability to bringing in jobs, with comments ranging from “I think it’s a great investment” to “I have no illusion that I can stop you from doing this” to one service worker saying he has to file for unemployment during the slow season because there aren’t enough conventions.

County commissioners on Thursday voted unanimously — twice — to sign off on the deal, though Multnomah County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury said she’s still skeptical.

“[I] hope the day comes I can say I was wrong about my reservations,” Kafoury said.

Critics point to the public money going into construction — most notably the $60 million loan that is supposed to be paid back with room taxes collected at the hotel.

“It’s not a good idea to mix public money with private enterprise,” said one critic who testified.

But for those on the convention center hotel bandwagon, Thursday’s Multnomah County Commission “yes” vote is a long time in coming.

“[It] feels good,” said Metro Council President Tom Hughes. His agency is behind the deal. Metro is the only regional government agency in the U.S. whose governing body is directly elected by the region’s voters, according to the Metro Council website. Its reach covers the 25 cities and three counties in the Portland metropolitan area.

But the president of Metro isn’t quite willing to call it a done deal yet.

“I mean, I like the progress but we’re not quite there yet…” Hughes said. “We’ll pop the cork when we cut the ribbon, that will be the time to celebrate.”

The planned convention center hotel — built with $78 million in public money — still has at least two more hurdles to pass.On Wednesday, four of five Portland city councilor's seemed to support a plan to use public money to subsidize the hotel. That would mean a change in the lodging tax agreement, allowing developers of a convention center hotel to pay back a $60 million public loan with taxes paid on room stays by guests.

The councilor's main concern is making sure other Portland hotels don’t suffer.

On Wednesday, the councilors heard public comment, with only Commissioner Steve Novick voting against the memorandum of understanding.

The city’s final vote is planned for next Wednesday, with the bulk of councilors already saying they’ll sign off.

The planned convention center hotel — built with $78 million in public money – now only has one hurdle to pass. After city approval, all that’s left before construction is Metro Council finalizing a development agreement with the Hyatt hotel chain.

“I have to think that’s not as difficult as it might have been,” Hughes said, “because we’ve been working with them all along.”

Metro hopes developers will break ground in spring.