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Hotel opponents try, try again

Opponents of Metro's proposed headquarters hotel adjacent to the Oregon Convention Center have filed a second lawsuit to block it, this time in Clackamas County Circuit Court.

The lawsuit, filed Friday, charges that Metro cannot legally issue bonds to help finance the hotel without a public vote. The suit cites a section of Oregon law setting Metro's powers, which says: "Unless the electors of the district first approve the financing of new facilities, the district shall not: (a) construct new facilities…"

The lawsuit asks the court to prevent Metro from issuing bonds for the project, which could provide $60 million of the hotel's $198 million construction cost. The rest of the financing will be provided by the Oregon Lottery, the Portland Development Commission, Mortenson Development and Hyatt Hotels.

Metro officials declined to comment on the new lawsuit, saying they had not seen the suit. But under the terms of the plan, the hotel will not be constructed or owned by Metro. It will be built by Mortenson Development, the project's developer, and then sold to Hyatt Hotels.

Opponents of the project consist mostly of competing hotels, including Provenance Hotels, the Hilton Portland & Executive Tower and members of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association.

“We are asking for one thing only: that the right of the people to make the final decision about this hotel deal not be violated,” the organization said in a statement released Monday. “Metro could end these legal proceedings today by simply agreeing to put this important matter to a public vote, but they refuse to do so. The reason why is that they know their flawed agreement, if subjected to public scrutiny, would be rejected by the voters."

Metro President Tom Hughes criticized the lawsuit in an afternoon staement:

"The convention center hotel project is about creating good jobs now and into the future for hardworking Oregonians.

"This is the second unfounded lawsuit filed, not by hotel owners, operators or workers, but by paid lobbyists. By attempting to tie the project up in court once again, after losing the first legal challenge outright, this is nothing more than a delay tactic funded by a small and vocal minority.

"This litigation is a campaign tactic, not a sound legal debate.

"Hotels, tourism operators, Lloyd District neighbors and workers in the hospitality and construction industries have expressed overwhelming support for this innovative public/private project because they recognize the benefits it will bring to our region now and into the future.

"We’ll continue our diligent efforts to invest wisely in our proven tourism marketing strategies for the good of the region."

Operating under the name Coalition for Fair Budget, the opponents previously tried to refer a portion of the financing plan to the ballot. It was a vote by the Multnomah County Commission to allow transient lodging taxes collected at the hotel to repay the Metro bonds.

Multnomah County elections officials refused to accept the referral filing, saying the commission vote was an administrative decision that could be subject to a public vote. Opponents filed suit in Multnomah County Circuit Court to overturn the decision, but lost. They have appealed that ruling to the Oregon Court of Appeals.

The new suit was filed in Clackamas County because the plaintiff, Page Richardson, the spokesperson for the opposition, lives there.