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Metro Looking For Way To Build Convention Hotel

In the past it seemed the question about a mega-hotel near the Convention Center in Portland was whether there should be one. Now it appears the questions are more about what kind of events the city would attract if it had one, who would run it and who would fund it?

One possiblitity a hotel would open up is attracting the NBA All-Star Game. As Andrew Theen reports, the decision is still a couple of months away, but Portland's regional government Metro is off and running.

Officially, there are five options on the table — including "no action." But the Metro council's latest meeting centered on what seems to be the elephant in the room; that 600-room headquarters hotel.

David Woolson: “The topic of a convention center hotel has been discussed for upwards of twenty years.  And so it’s time.”

That’s David Woolson.  He's leading Metro’s research into all of the options.  He’s also the CEO of the Metro Exposition Recreation Commission or MERC.  It's in charge of  managing the Convention Center and other properties.

Woolson says there's a fundamental  issue  at stake in the decision about whether or how to build a hotel.

David Woolson: “How does Oregon want to compete in getting the convention business.  It is clear that the convention center is very good business for the city.  It is also very clear it’s very competitive with other cities to get it.”

The Rose Garden sits just a few blocks away from the proposed hotel site.  The building’s tenant is coming off one of the most exciting off-seasons in recent memory.

But in all its history, the Blazers have never hosted an NBA All-Star game, though they've offered.  Last year’s host, Las Vegas doesn’t even have a franchise.

The CEO of the Oregon Sports Authority, Drew Mahalic, says an All-Star game would mean millions of dollars for Portland.

Drew Mahalic: “Everytime we’ve submitted a bid the main response has been, you’ve got a strong bid.  You’ve got a great city that would welcome it, but we really can’t get past the fact that you don’t have a headquarters hotel.”

MERC CEO David Woolson and others say in general, Portland loses out  on all sorts of events  — to cities like San Diego, Seattle, and San Antonio.

A prominent hotel consultant MERC commissioned to study the issue seemed to confirm that, saying a headquarters hotel is considered a mandatory accommodation these days.

And a recent Metro report found almost 90 percent of activities at the Oregon Convention Center come from regional or local groups.Woolson says people from outside  the region bring  ten times  as much money into the economy as locals.

Metro Councilor Rod Park says he and his colleagues know a decision—  any decision—  is needed soon.

Rod Park: "I’m not going to say it’s a watershed decision point.  But it certainly is going to mark in the future, 20 years from now when they’ll say, you know the council made the right decision, the council made the wrong decision or my god why did they make that decision.”

Park says most of the comments  Metro has gotten so far have been positive, with opposition coming mostly from  possible competitors.  MERC's David Woolson says the city of Portland considers the hotel a big factor in developing  the eastside.

David Woolson: “I think that the Lloyd District is posed for a significant upswing.  There is a number of projects that are in the works.  And I think this could be an interesting piece to that puzzle.  The question is how do you make it pencil and how does it fit in.”

Both MERC CEO David Woolson and Metro Councilor Rod Park say the decision-making process will be  open and thorough.   This afternoon Metro held a public workshop where people gave their opinions on the project.

The Metro council expects to hear about different ways the proposed hotel could be financed early next month.

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