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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on October 21, 2005 12:49 AM. The previous post in this blog was World class. The next post in this blog is Joke set-up of the year so far. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.



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Friday, October 21, 2005

We can't handle the truth

Here's a good one. A professor of public administration from the University of Texas is coming to town today to debunk the rosy projections that are being tossed around about the Portland Convention Center Hotel -- the one that you and I are going to pay for as the city continues to throw good money after bad at the White Elephant.

The professor, Heywood Sanders, is the author of the important study that the Brookings Institution put out earlier this year, which shows that convention centers are bad bets for cities. They haven't panned out anywhere, St. Louis being a recent example of major disappointment.

Unfortunately, our city commissioners have all been hypnotized by the hotel deal, and it's going to happen no matter how wrong it is, and no matter how little the people of Portland want it -- just like the foolhardy Convention Center expansion. It's like addictive gambling -- rather than admit you did something stupid, you do something even more stupid trying to win your money back. And the fix is in, with Mr. Lloyd Center getting the pork. Hundreds of millions of public dollars, most of it probably local tax money, and complete property tax forgiveness -- rumor has it, the hotel will pay no property taxes at all for 30 years. This is what we're spending our hard-earned city revenues to create.

The flyer for today's talk says that the event is an attempt to relate to the "local debate" about the hotel. Boy, if Sanders can find a genuine opportunity to "debate" this, he's one smart professor. This deal was done long, long ago, most likely in one or more smoke-filled rooms, back in the Vera-Neil-Mazziotti days (when Commissioner Sam Adams was the mayor's economic development guru). There's simply no stopping it, which is such a sad statement about our city. If it's such a good idea, let's put it up for a public vote! In your dreams.

Anyway, Professor Sanders will be speaking at 2:00 at Portland State. I hope the poor fellow can at least get in and out of our downtown without being shot, violently attacked by a roving gang, stabbed, menaced, or involuntarily fondled. As for his message, it's dead on arrival.

Comments (17)

I can't remember where I read it (have to research the mental file cabinets) but I read a study a few years ago which said that sports stadiums never pan out either.

At least the people who pay for the stadium get something to do out of them. What will Portlanders get out of the hotel? "Hey, the national morticians' convention is in town. It's really crowded at [insert name of touristy restaurant] this weekend. I'll make a few extra bucks in tips. Wish I had a real job."

Trust me, when a TEXAN comes to tell you that development is a bad idea you really need to sit up and listen. Because let me tell you it's rare for Texans to oppose development of ANY kind, must less something relatively innoculous like a convention center and hotel.

And I'm writing this as I watch subdivisions and freeways pop up literally overnight here in Central Texas.

Hah! No fear of failure in Salem as their Private/Government Co-Op venture supports an Issuematic Conference Center, Not a Problematic Convention Center.

Perhaps the Feds might commandeer it soon for use as an Illegal Alien holding center.

I thought there was currently a glut of hotel rooms in the Center City. Am I wrong? This raises some questions.

Is there any reliable evidence at all that we're actually losing convention business because we don't have enough hotel rooms?

If there is really an huge untapped demand out there for convention-related hotel rooms, why is the subsidy needed to make the project pencil out?

What about the economic impact to all the other Center City hotels of a sudden expansion of supply? When their vacancy rates go up, are we going to compensate them?

Has PDC done any kind of reliable economic analysis that:

The marginal increase in convention business PLUS indirect spending by the marginal increase in conventioneers PLUS P.R. value of people coming here (warm fuzzy factor)


Public subsidy + Loss of business by other hotels + Opportunity costs of doing something else with that money and land

bensch, i think the argument the city puts forth is that IF we had more hotel rooms, we COULD get the bigger conventions - i.e. International Organization of Chemist or some such thing. we just don't have those rooms now yet. i think it's the case where the city is trying to compete with the New Yorks and Atlanta's of this country. i agree, what will a larger convention center and a hotel really do for portland? no much. the only positive i can see is that the area around the convention center will get cleaned up a little hopefully.

In '98, the story was how many bigger conventions Portland lost out on because it didn't have enough convention space. That solved, now the excuse is hotel rooms. Those studies concentrate on conventions Portland couldn't host, not how many it would have gotten if it had the facilities.

It's fallacy to presume that with more facilities, many more conventions will chose Portland. A few, probably, but lots of other cities are competing for the business (which drives down the rates one can charge as well).

Convention attendance in the U.S. peaked in '96 and continues to trend downward.

I always bridle at the phrase “get a real job” to describe waiting. It seems so elitist and incorrect. I’ve spent many a year in banquets and I used to collect testimonials from new waiters between so-called real jobs, including one guy who told me it was harder than being a lumberjack. That may be a stretch but it’s certainly difficult enough to deserve some respect. Indeed, I have traveled through many levels of society and I found the banquet workers to be some of the most interesting, hardworking people I’ve met. I’ve known some who were waiters till they retired, and they seemed to have had full, genuine lives. Waiters earn the money, they contribute to society, and, unlike many corporations, they actually pay taxes. And most find the job all too real.

IF it was a real job, would it be called "waiting"? Seriously, I think the "not a real job" label is apt in the sense that for most people it's hard work, bad hours, low pay and not really a career. There are, of course, exceptions to all of these elements.

If aanyone actually went to this, I'd love to hear or read about the proposal by the PSU class to build the hotel at the Memorial Coliseum.

I disagree that the Convention Center Hotel as proposed is a done deal. That kind of public subsidy for a hotel when the existing hotels are in recovery mode raises serious equity issues. Especially when the hotel industry had already agreed to add taxes to their customer's bills to pay for the Convention Center expansion.

Speaking of hotels and wait staff, I was the last wine steward at the Canlis at the top of the Hilton, before the Hilton made it a hotel restaurant (and killed the business). The problem in the US isn't that restaurant work isn't "real" in the sense of being hard work and underpaid, its in the way restaurant workers are generally treated by the industry, as laborers rather than professionals. It's hard to build a career in an industry where the failure rate of restaurants is so high, and the trend is corporate consolidation into look-alike chains.
Portland's lucky to have restauranteurs with unique visions...David Machado, of Lauro fame, just opened Vindahlo in our SE Hosford-Abernethy neighborhood this week, and we had an awesome dinner last night. (I've no commercial ties to him, hope the free plug is OK.)

Let me try this another way: You can make your case against a convention hotel on economic terms without diminishing those people in society who might be impacted financially by a convention coming to town. It just seems petty to talk about a few extra bucks as if that didn’t matter to these people. I used to take cabs home at 4 a.m. from one of these marginal jobs and the drivers invariably commented on the relative impact of the latest convention.
It sure seemed to matter to them. So make your case, but if you only see a convention in terms of screwing up your ability to make a reservation at your favorite restaurant, you’re going to sound a little snobby. Waiting means serving. It’s a real job and there are lots of spinal x-rays out there that prove it.

Hey PSU (and media consultant John Ray) Where was the advance announcements to the business community & media that Heywood Sanders/Univ of Texas was going to speak??

Lots of us learned of it the day of(thanks to Bogdanski's blog)and if it weren't for Jack, we'd have never known about it whatsoever until the O's post-game story Saturday ("PDC hustles to pre-empt critic's talk"). Dylan Rivera's article(10/22) goes on to say that "about 20 people, mostly PDC staffers, consultants, and media" were in attendance.

Somebody explain the non-coverage prior to that lead to just 20 attendees.

With $144 million in bonded public money on the block, more than just PDC staffers, consultants, and media would want to (and need to) hear Sander's arguments.

In the piece in the O today on still higher cost estimates for the AT(rs) due to the rising cost of steel, Sam Adams is quoted as saying he won't compromise on design, since he doesn't want "an ugly picture postcard" from Portland. But the really ugly picture here is the mental one evidenced here-the done deal, the contrived public hearing, lying public relations, and after-the-fact debate. Ken Kesey's landscapes and Merriweather Lewis' "land of visionary enchantment" used to symbolize Oregon and the Pacific Northwest to me. But now I more often think of what the top student in my law school graduating class said about Portland, that you get off the plane and exclaim at all the rivers and trees. Then you learn it is all run by untoward cliques.

Then you learn it is all run by untoward cliques.

The stupid decisions and crazy spending comes from the minds of the planning misfits.

If Portland were a movie it would be Revenge of the Nitwits.

Does anyone have a good sense of what the state of the art is regarding convention centers and hotels?

I am skeptical of their economic benefits, just like I doubt that a MLB team will reap economic rewards.

However, for the latter, I can rely on dozens of studies by public policy analysts and economists whose work I know. On convention centers, we have this one study out of Brookings by a professor at a second tier Texas institution and a rejoinder by a consultant firm that works on convention centers.

Would be nice to have some other perspectives.

"I hope the poor fellow can at least get in and out of our downtown without being shot, violently attacked by a roving gang, stabbed, menaced, or involuntarily fondled."

Hell, he couldnt make it past the PDC staffers they sent to heckle him according to the Snoregonian. I am really curious about his audience with Potter since PDC wants to import their hired gun for the hotel.

The link to the "stabbed" story can be found on Northwest Noise here:

Thanks Jack.


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