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Friday, July 7, 2006

Movable scam

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.

Comments (1)

Thanks Jack- for having the balls to say all of this. You'll probably be crucified by this time tomorrow, but everything you say is RIGHT ON the money.

Posted by: Lily at July 7, 2006 02:41 AM

Well, I don't know about everbody else. But if the Children AND the Salmon (not to mention the tourists) are going to benefit from a convention center hotel, IT SOUNDS LIKE A LINCHPIN TO ME.

Posted by: Mister T at July 7, 2006 06:38 AM

I don't think the Metro Charter is a deal breaker on this, Jack. An intergovernmental agreement with the city or the PDC would fall under "metropolitan zoo".

Posted by: Bill McDonald at July 7, 2006 06:38 AM


This example shows the gap between the Goldschmidt Political renants and the political zoo that continuously hurts Portland with grandiocity instead of taking advantage of what we have.

I organized a convention a few years back in the early 90's, and we have a such a unique and wonderful resourse here also in a time before the panhandler invasion. Under different leadership POVA had united the downtown hotels, and instead of reserving the traditional riverside Thunderbird/Red Lion Hayden Island complex, we got blocks of rooms in each of the downtown hotels and held our conference between them. POVA helped us arrange a shuttle that constantly circulated between the hotels, but our people loved it.

I am sure then spent money in the shops walking around downtown, and a stroll on in the parks, access to the Art Museum and shops.

In walking downtown with the expanded Hilton, and upgrade and remodel of so many of the downtown hotels this would be so much easier today.

Unlike Hayden Island, there was more than the typical Mall stores to shop, and Portland is beautiful and unique.

Instead of trying to emulate the blueprint with this linchpin, we should listen to the hotel owners in downtown, colaborate with them. Last time I checked the much simpler funky old Expo Center (not architecurally beautiful, but oh my gracious FUNCTIONAL) was making a healthy profit as opposed to the Convention center running in the red.

If we clean up the pan handling, we have some thing really unique to promote, of course the tearing up of the heart City over the next few years won't help. I wish we could be thankful for what we have, and not spend many dollars sabotaging our uniqueness.

Posted by: John Capardoe at July 7, 2006 07:26 AM

Great, all of the "john doe" Family Reunions (code for Amway meetings) will now have a place to stay.

It does fit in with Metro's mindset - Build a CC. Its not working, then lets make it bigger. Its still not working lets put a hotel next door, even if we are saturated with high-end hotels and the hotels in the area don't get a lot of convention traffic.

I still think letting the tribes build a casino/hotel makes sense since I am afraid of what else they would do with that area.

Posted by: Steve at July 7, 2006 07:31 AM

I'll bet cold, hard cash that you could fit a hotel into "convention...facilities"; where else would the conventioneers stay, pray tell? (where's the markup language for ?)

And "public" facilities probably doesn't mean ownership, it just contrasts with "private" facilities reserved for the use of members.

There are probably some other provisions in the charter that could arguably prevent Metro from building a hotel, but none of them are close to a slam dunk.

Posted by: Jud at July 7, 2006 07:42 AM

I didn't care for your "... then let's let all the taxpayers in the region pay whatever ..." comment Jack. I prefer to modify Vegas's motto to this - "What Portland is dumb enough to think up - stays in Portland."

Yeah, that's the ticket.

Posted by: mmmarvel at July 7, 2006 08:04 AM

Did you HAVE to mention OHSU? Please, Jack, there was a hotel in the hopper for their SoWhat extension...for some reason, it just evaporated as the project went forward. Now, you bring it up and wave it in their faces?

Of course, OHSU would want the hotel in SoWhat, rather than near the Covention Center. But, hey, they've got two towers there, right? Couldn't one provide for a tram from SoWhat?

Posted by: godfry at July 7, 2006 09:15 AM

The problem is that Portland is not the kind of tourist town that lends itself to a convention center. For that, I think of something like San Diego, with a lot of A-level tourist destinations. Within a mile of the CC you have the new PetCo field, Seaport Village, the Gaslamp, the harbor, and it is 5 minutes from the airport, 10 minutes from the Zoo, Sea World, etc. Portland, as I tell all my friends who come to visit, is more of a "hang out and enjoy our many nice restaurants and charming neighborhoods" kind of place. I just don't think that many groups are going to see it is a primary convention destination.

Posted by: Dave J. at July 7, 2006 09:16 AM

I would flip the inquiry over. Examine what constitutes collateral to cover public bond issuances. (Rant.)

The event to isolate this issue would be a "clean sweep" initiative to end payments on all the "moral obligation" bonds and to make all taxes uniform once again.

Posted by: Ron Ledbury at July 7, 2006 09:19 AM

Bragdon and company have brought new standards to the fine art of selling snake oil to the masses.

How much time it will take for the current Metro leadership to come to grips with how far they have helped D.B. sell out to the developers is anybody's guess.

And re: zoo referances, when it was renamed Oregon Zoo, the abbreviation is OZ.

Most fitting.


Posted by: leadbelly at July 7, 2006 10:44 AM

Nice. Completely on target.

Posted by: skyview satellite at July 7, 2006 10:48 AM

On impulse, I bought a recent copy of Portland Monthly, the one with a list of Portland's top 250 lawyers. I recognize at least four as wranglers who keep us in the running for Scam Central U.S.A.

Legal racketeers get their names everywhere, their fingers in every pie, come to be known as "go to" guys and gals in the community. An example of this kind of racket aired in the San Francisco Examiner in May 2000: the Marin County (another end of the rainbow "cool" place for players)Family Law Court came to be controlled by a cabal of lawyers, judges and mental health professionals who would overcome California's then-existing presumption that joint custody was in the best interest of the children of divorcing parents, by creating the professional illusion that one parent (usually the mother) was unfit. The stories of damaged relationships and ruined lives coming out of there are heartbreaking. Things turned around when the crowd messed with a father on behalf of a "connected" mother. He hired an out of state investigator and organized rallies outside the courthouse. The racketeers are gone now, but the systemic problem is not really being addressed.

Posted by: Cynthia at July 7, 2006 10:55 AM

Doesn't it make more sense to bring all the out of state money a convention brings into the downtown core to spend their money at the existing hotels and restaurants? Las Vegas has absolutely monsterous convention facilities that dwarf Portland's, and they do a wonderful job of transporting thousands of conventioneers the 3 miles or so from the LV Convention Hall to the strip hotels. They do have a Hilton next door, but it's just a fraction of the actual room space in their town. If a government agency is going to play a key role here it should be to facilitate the use of existing facilities by streamlining the transportation process between the convention center and the downtown.

Posted by: Kevin at July 7, 2006 01:21 PM

"streamlining the transportation process between the convention center and the downtown."

That's it! An aerial tram would do just that. That's the ticket!

Posted by: Allan L. at July 7, 2006 01:53 PM

Well, arm yourself with the truth and get prepared to shut down Metro's b.s.

First, read Brookings Institution report on the national scale of the scam.

Then read the weak 8-page response from the kool aid kids.

Then google "convention center hotel" and the city of your choice. L.A. just approved one, and "OVER HALF the cost" will be "financed by city subsidies and loans." L.A. Times 6/13/06. What's so ingenious is that the subsidy comes out of the hides of the covention center hotel's COMPETITORS, through abatement of the hotel tax. Sounds like a strategy for becoming a wealthy developer: government sanctioned destruction of your competition through the tax system. Sweet! Hook me up Homer!

Posted by: armandhammer at July 7, 2006 08:40 PM


So, I read the response you cited to the Brookings Inst. article. What about it was weak? The author brought up very valid points as to the data set used by the Brookings Inst. report.

That said, I agree with the notion in the Brooking Inst. report and found the retort a bit self-serving, in that the author represents the convention industry.

Further, this quote was delicious:

"If it is not the role of local governments to nurture and support the revitalization of their inner cores what, it must be asked, is a more
important role for them to play?"

Um, let's see... paving streets, hiring cops and firemen, running schools, courts, and buses, and that's about it, I think....

Put me in the "let the developers make millions playing with their own money" camp. I'm all about them making a killing. Just let them use private money for that.

You listening, Bruce Warner?

Posted by: Don Smith at July 7, 2006 10:31 PM

Godfry: OHSU hasn't given up on the hotel business in NM. They ran out of funding and into the tram scam. They'll be back.

OHSU is a public/private entity acting as Developer, Hotel Owner, Lobbyist, Public Transportation Provider, Public Parking Garage Owner, and, oh, Medical Provider (with limited liability after US Supreme Court decision).

Posted by: Lee at July 7, 2006 11:12 PM

I forgot, OHSU is also a Health Club Owner, Bio-Tech Advocate (even though there has not been one new bio-tech job, yet), and Property Management Company.

Posted by: Lee at July 7, 2006 11:15 PM

hot tram life cycle costs now!

Posted by: Don Smith at July 8, 2006 12:09 AM

Holy crap Jack. I'm inclined to agree with on most points, but is there a government entity be it local, State, or Federal that does a good job in your eyes.

Posted by: Todd at July 8, 2006 03:19 PM

At the moment, no. The Clinton White House with a split Congress wasn't too bad, though fairly corrupt.

There are some great people in government at the state level, but they're in the minority. At the federal level, Bush is an abomination, of course, but Hillary would be almost as bad, in a different way. (Don't worry, she's not electable.)

Here in town, the management of the City of Portland has gone from 99% sick joke to 95% under Potter, but that's not saying much. Then there's the county government, with the two developers' wives, the other mean girl, Diane, and Bernie -- there's an accomplished group.

As long as people know what's going on and that's what they want, fine with me, but unlike at the national level, the chicken-hearted MSM around here sure isn't going to tell you what's wrong most of the time. And if you agree with me on everything but the Convention Center hotel, but you're going to draw the line there, I'd say you draw your lines in funny places.

Posted by: Jack Bog at July 8, 2006 06:12 PM

BTW, I haven't picked on Metro much at all on this blog until this. If they're going to get in on this developer con job, though, they'll move to the top of my S list.

Posted by: Jack Bog at July 8, 2006 06:16 PM

Re the developers wives on the county commission" WW deserves kudos for its piece on Maria RdS' deal to favor her husband's company in a plan to create affordable housing. Interestingly, the deal displaced people who needed housing, illustrating what is pretty apparent in this town: we don't pay attention to housing inventories and need; we just let developers wheel and deal and then put the "affordable" stamp on the same old stuff.

Posted by: Cynthia at July 9, 2006 09:44 AM

Actually, the Convention Center Hotel is a joke. I was just referring to your general rant against just about every government agency except for maybe ODFW, but I'm sure there is something that you may find particularly egregious about them. Perhaps I'm naive or a glass half full type of guy, but I don't think it is that bad.

Posted by: Todd at July 9, 2006 10:40 PM


All government should be subject to citizen scrutiny always. Wish I could remember the exact wording of the Nietzsche quote to the effect that the government's interest is anathema to the public interest. The people in these parts who put excessive energy into defending government entities against critics puzzle me.

Posted by: Cynthia at July 10, 2006 10:24 AM

Cynthia: This might not be the one you are looking for, but it's applicable ...

The state is the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly it lies, too; and this lie creeps from its mouth; 'I, the state, am the people.' -- Friedrich Nietzsche

Posted by: Lloyd LeBlanc at July 16, 2006 12:57 PM

[Posted as indicated; restored later.]


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I see that the movable scam -- the convention center hotel that the taxpayers of Portland are going to build against their will -- is up for a hearing before the Metro Council tomorrow. This after the PDC initially said no to the obscene public subsid... [Read More]

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