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Tuesday, February 6, 2007

All aboard the next tram

Well, Portland's Movable Scam -- the convention center hotel -- is about to get back on track. Metro -- one of the region's cornucopias of unsupervised public money -- is going to vote on Thursday to go through with building the thing. The new plan is ultimately to stick the taxpayers with both the bill and the risk by building the 600-room hotel and having it wholly public-owned. And although the City of Portland has backed off taking the lead, there's still apparently going to be a lovely "partnership" on this one between the Portland Development Commission and Metro. Sounds trammily familiar.

But wait, it gets better. Just to show you how the Old Boy Network works, the most recent development is the proposed request to the state for $40 million in Lottery dollars for the program! Wow. Talk about moving the scam. David Bragdon, Dale Penn, Hank Ashforth -- you might as well call in Neil Goldschmidt himself to chair the meeting.

And what? No Tri-Met tax dollars? Get Bernie on the phone.

I've blogged about this boondoggle before on several occasions. Portland's convention center is a flop, and always will be, regardless of how much hotel you build in the neighborhood. Expanding the convention center against the clearly expressed wishes of the voters was a gigantic Vera Katz-Erik Sten-Sam Adams fiasco. A taxpayer-built hotel will be another major fiscal disaster. Ask the people in Omaha, Nebraska, where the exact same scenario has saddled the city with a losing hotel.

But somebody promised this to Ashforth a long time ago, and in the network, promises made at the Arlington Club must be kept at all costs.

Comments (25)

It's a national scam. Check this out -- just substitute "Portland" for "Baltimore," and it's eerily accurate.

There is also another city-financed stinker hotel in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Losing money.

What immediately comes to mind are four cities with (seemingly) thriving Convention Center complexes---Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Minneapolis & Indianapolis.

A common thread among them all is that each has a wealth of adjacent hotels, often accessed via skyways and tunnels.

When I've attended conventions in these venues, the wealth of space is expanded in the direct relation to the number of adjacent hotels. We had access to the Convention Center Exhibit & Break-out Halls as well as a plethora of hotel ballrooms and meeting rooms.

So, say what you want, easily accessed hotels (and I don't mean via a light-rail and bus) can be vital to a successful convention site.

Now, my one big beef (which I communicated to a city commissioner without getting any response)---our Convention Center has no signage on the side facing I-5. I ask, what business would have access to such exposure and not have signage to so many drivers passing by???

...just some random thoughts...

Once again, if this was such a great investment, why aren't investors falling all over themselves to build this thing?

our Convention Center has no signage on the side facing I-5

Civic icons need no signage. They speak for themselves.

You could have 10 hotels with skybridges galore, but not many people are going to take two planes and fly all day to come to Portland, Oregon for a national convention. It just isn't going to happen for decades, if ever.

I'm with both Oregbear and Chris -- if the convention center is to be viable, it needs a lovely hotel nearby, but if it's such a great idea, it begs the question why no Marriott or Hilton has jumped on the bandwagon.

Heck, even Reno's crappy convention center (and it's a testimony to 50s postmodern bombshelter architecture) has the, uh, Atlantis at hand. And the Adventure Inn a little ways down the road.

I feel sorry for my former colleagues in the hotel business.
Here they've been working hard to compete in the free market system, and then this ownership-by-the-government bunch of Trump-Junior phonies comes along and uses the workers own taxes to compete against them. It would be one thing if it was just unfair, but these politicial "business" types can't lose because it's not their money, so they just give each other another plaque and then move on to the next hustle. Here's a clue: If they can't find a hotel chain that's willing to build this, it's probably a bad idea.
Meanwhile, I doubt they spent 10 minutes worrying how this could affect people who are already working in hotels.

Why is it that NOT ONE politician in sight has anything to say in opposition to this stuff?
Randy Leonard? How about you?
If you thought Trammel Crow's Alexan Tax abatement was BS this is a no brainer.

Elected officials have a responsibility to speak out even if the CC Hotel moves over to some other funding scheme and out of their official jurisdiction.

take two planes and fly all day to come to Portland

Exactly. Of the four cities oregbear mentioned, two (Cincinnati and Minneapolis) are MAJOR airline hubs. And Indianapolis is halfway between everywhere. Portland is literally at the end of the line.

If they can't find Convention business willing to build a convention center, it's probably a bad idea.

If they can't find a Convention business willing to expand the convention center, it's probably a bad idea.

If they can't find a hotel chain that's willing to build the hotel, it's probably a bad idea.

If it's taxpayer money it doesn't matter is it's a bad idea.

Dead ahead,
A new Port of Portland headquarters building at the airport.
Never mind they built a new headquarters building downtown 5 or so years ago.

If the primary purpose of the convention center is to help the local economy by attracting large, out-of-state conventions, it is doing a poor job of that. Take a look at the OCC's calendar of events for the upcoming year at http://live.oregoncc.org/iebms/coe/coe_p1_all.aspx?oc=10&cc=occcoe. See very many large regional or national events being held there? I sure don't. Most of OCC's events are small and/or will not attract many non-Oregonians. The place was poorly sited and doesn't easily connect to downtown. In addition, the number of national conventions being held has fallen since this unnecessary white elephant was expanded.

But I have a solution: run a tram from the OCC and its new hotel to the south waterfront area! It would truly be an engineering marvel that would put Portland on the map. Let's go for it!

Well... I've made my disapproval known to my Metro councillor. I trust all those here have as well?

There are, in fact, nonstop flights to Portland from New York (JFK), Newark, Washington, D.C., Cincinnati, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, Denver, Salt Lake City, Boise, Anchorage, Frankfurt, Tokyo, Vancouver and Guadalajara, not to mention all points on and near the West Coast of the United States. We may not be quite as well served as Seattle, but the difference is small. I don't think air connections are the issue here. It's the destination, not the journey.

I think I forgot St. Louis, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Reno.

God these guys are saps. I wonder if Ashforth is going for the same deal (no property tax, he keeps the room tax and METRO makes the loan payment if poor Mr Ashforth doesn't make enough profit.)

Here is the Frrbes article that cites the Oregon Convention Center


When Bragdon feels his shortcomings can't he stare at anything else besides those damn spires of the OCC?

So long as any casino is operated on land that required the approval of the Governor for transfer the Convention Center Hotel shall be used as a casino, where profits are to be used to:

1) Wittle down all city debt and prospective obligations down to zero,
2) Thereafter profits are to be distributed uniformly among households that have at least one dependent child.

Purpose: It is for the kids and the future generation, as they are the very folks that are expected to cover any debt.

(Just call me a stickler for uniform application of the equal privileges and immunities clause, any time it seems fitting.)

"Well... I've made my disapproval known to my Metro councillor. I trust all those here have as well?"

Done - Brian Newman (my district) has a grad degree in public planning, so he'll still roll over for Ashforth anyways.

There are, in fact, nonstop flights to Portland

But are they enough to accommodate the crowds of thousands that it takes to make a national convention happen? And do they come from enough cities?

BTW, the mention of the Reno flight was pretty funny.

These guys are kidding themselves if they think they are going to have a snowballs chance of going up against even the most popular sub-regional convention center cities.

The bigs always have three or four VERY LARGE hotels IN CLOSE PROXIMITY (translation: no river crossing required).
Even little ol' Salt Lake City boasts of 7,125 hotel rooms "within walking distance".

Presumably, they know we'll never compete with the bigs, and they simply aspire to regional convention center status.

(from a 2004 ExpoWeb.com story @http://www.expoweb.com/Past_Issue_May_2004/feature1_05190412.htm)

The occupancy of convention centers in "gateway” destinations (cities with more than 30,000 hotel rooms) dropped by 10 percentage points to 51 percent. The occupancy rates for “national” centers (cities with between 15,000 and 30,000 hotel rooms) dropped by about 15 points to 32 percent. “Regional” centers (cities with less than 15,000 hotel rooms or secondary/tertiary convention centers in markets with more than 15,000 hotel rooms) remained the least occupied at 26 percent, a one-point decline from 2001.

four cities with (seemingly) thriving Convention Center complexes---Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Minneapolis & Indianapolis.

Not Milwaukee.

Oddly enough, the "for-profit" hoteliers are not interested in building shiny new towers for a likely 26% occupancy rate.

Why would Metro? What's the name of the consulting firm they bribed (a'hem....I mean "retained") to suggest this is a viable hotel property? What will they do after it fails?

Maybe it will be the world's first Homeless Tower?

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