The guys who want to build a huge hotel near the white elephant Oregon Convention Center -- and who want Portland taxpayers to pay for most of it -- are testing the portability of their proposal. Now that the Portland Development Commission, under Mayor Potter's appointees, is apparently turning a cold shoulder to the massive taxpayer subsidies that it would take to make this whale of a mistake happen, the salesmen for it have taken their pitch to -- get ready for this one -- Metro.
What in the heck is Metro? I hear some of you asking. That's our "unique" regional government that's not a county, not a city, just this other layer of governmental thing that lurks over much of what goes on around Portland way. Its main function is to coordinate land use regulation and garbage collection in the metropolitan area around the Rose City, but it's also got a handful of other responsibilities. It runs the zoo, the Convention Center, and the Expo Center, and it's in charge of all manner of publicly owned open space, including most of the old and neglected cemeteries that nobody wants. Metro came into its current configuration during the Goldschmidt time, and so it's got the customary environmental gloss over the seamy underbelly of big bucks backroom wheeling and dealing.
From my own cynical viewpoint, Metro is just another unwatched pot of public money sitting there ripe for pillaging by the ravages of human greed. It's on my list with the PDC, the Port of Portland, Tri-Met, the Expo Commission, the "Lottery" Commission, the OLCC, Saif -- too many flakey budgets and too many opaque financial statements for anyone to keep good tabs on. And -- unlike the PDC -- places like Metro, the Port, and Tri-Met still have lieutenants of the city's Old Boy Network at or near the helm.
So it's natural that when the PDC board came to its senses and said "probably not" to the hotel (thank you, Sal Kadri!), the project's proponents went to look for another brimming tax trough to drink out of. And who better to provide it than the boys at Metro?
And by jove, Metro is intrigued by the convention center hotel concept -- positively fascinated -- and allows that maybe it could somehow be the public benefactor for it. Or maybe it could enter into an intergovernmental agreement with the city or the PDC. Uh huh -- just like the SoWhat district and the OHSU Medical Group aerial tram [rim shot]. Nothing but greatness can result when our various governmental entities band together.
Bring on the smoke and mirrors.
It wil be interesting to watch the meanderings of the Metro folks as they get cozied up to by the hotel developer (who already happens to be a major landlord around Metro's own headquarters). Can you say "charrette"? One of the issues I hope somebody raises is whether Metro has the legal authority to get involved in the development of a privately owned or operated hotel to begin with. Its charter may not permit it. Here's what it says, in relevant part:
Metro is also authorized to exercise the following functions: (1) acquisition, development, maintenance and operation of: (a) a metropolitan zoo, (b) public cultural, trade, convention, exhibition, sports, entertainment, and spectator facilities, (c) facilities for the disposal of solid and liquid wastes, and (d) a system of parks, open spaces and recreational facilities of metropolitan concern; (2) disposal of solid and liquid wastes; (3) metropolitan aspects of natural disaster planning and response coordination; (4) development and marketing of data; and (5) any other function required by state law or assigned to the Metropolitan Service District or Metro by the voters.
Yes, "convention... facilities" is in there, but does that include a hotel? And notice too that it says "public" facilities. Is a privately owned (or at least privately operated) hotel included in that category? Far from clear.
If the Metro angle bombs out, I'm sure the people who want to build this monstrosity will move on to the next Old Boy pork pot. Tri-Met's a stretch, but there is a light rail station nearby. Give Bernie a call. Maybe the Port? Calling Tom Imeson. Lottery Commission? Of course there will be slots in the bar, but only a hundred machines or so. Wonder what Dale Penn would say. Saif's usually good for a scam. Or hey, how about OHSU itself? The constant stream of international biotech gurus that are on their way to Portland will need a place with a spa to stay and enjoy a massage as they leaf through the Portland Monthly.
Adding to the pathos is the recent revelation that the downtown hotel operators, who obviously need this competition like a hole in the head, have hired none other than supremely annoying lobbyist Len Bergstein (himself an Old Boy) to fight the project in the media. You can expect the same transparency from Len on this issue that we're now enjoying in the Gorge casino debate. It's not about money, people, it's all about the salmon! And of course, the children.
In any event, if this hotel is of such regional importance that Metro needs to be involved, then let's let all the taxpayers in the region pay whatever high-eight-figure subsidy it's going to take. Let's make sure everyone under the Metro umbrella -- in Beaverton and Hillsboro and West Linn and Molalla and Wilsonville -- pungles up their share of the taxes that build the thing. Lord knows, no one in the hotel industry is dumb enough to try it themselves.