The mayor is not avoiding my phone calls about the convention center hotel. It turns out it was probably just my time of the month—male (shrimp) do have hormonal cycles, you know. So, here are the mayor's answers to my questions from this morning:
a1.Were you avoiding my phone calls?
"No. I've got to get a weekend off sometime. Peter insisted that I take the weekend off, barring emergencies."
1.If the mayor now supports the decision to stop, why was he such a proponent of continuing with the idea when everyone else wanted to drop it?
"I wanted to make sure that the decision was based on a firm foundation of facts," says Adams. "And made in consultation with experts. There isn't a hotelier on the Metro, City or County governing bodies, so when I put together the review committee in the winter it was with a view to getting different perspectives on there." Adams says he made a conscious effort to include skeptics on the committee, for example, developer Doug Obletz, who "said he did not think the hotel was a good idea," says the mayor. "I said I wasn't interested in pursuing anything that doesn't make sense." "I wanted to know what were the facts PDC and Metro were basing their assumptions on, and were they reasonable?"
1b.Awkward, huh? Are there concerns about voters seeing indecisiveness in the move?
"The voters expect me to make business-like judgments when it comes to business-like decisions," says the mayor. "And the revenues weren't sufficient. The question, from the beginning of the year, has been whether to pursue the idea further. And there have been plenty of proponents, and plenty of critics, it has been a polarizing issue. But my concern was to make a fair and impartial judgment." "We've got to make good, informed decisions."
2.According to Metro and the County, there isn't enough money in taxes collected from room rental and car rentals in the region to repay the $5million to $12million it would have cost to continue looking into the Convention Center hotel. So is Portland losing visitors in 2009, compared to 2008? That's not what I remember hearing when Travel Portland presented to council two weeks ago. But if we knew there wasn't going to be enough money in the pot, why did we extend the deadline on this deal again, back in April?
"Just last week, the county revised its projections for the next five years of revenues from hotel taxes and rental car taxes," says Adams. (Download the whole lot, here, as an excel spreadsheet). The county has predicted a 20% fall in hotel tax revenues from 2008 to 2010, from $8.4million last year to $6.7million in 2010. Likewise, a 13% fall in vehicle surcharge rentals is expected from 2008 to 2010, from $3.3million in 2008 to $2.9million in 2010, despite the county raising that rate slightly. Only a fraction of that money was going to be available to support the ongoing design of the convention center hotel—expected to cost between $5million and $12million.
3.What form will the new sit-downs to discuss Portland's visitor strategy take? Who are the stakeholders and "visitor reps" in this process?
"We're not sure yet," says Adams. "I want to debrief with both proponents and the biggest critics of the idea, who I've stayed in communication with. The visitor industry is so important to the success of Portland and the region's economy that we have to talk about a plan B."
3b.Will they be the same people who were pushing for the convention center hotel? If so, how can we trust them to come up with any better suggestions?
"After I've debriefed with the proponents and critics, I certainly want to look at bringing new blood and fresh ideas into the process," says Adams.
4.Where is the data to support these efforts? What work is being done on identifying who comes to Portland, why, and where there might be areas for growth?
The mayor referred us to Travel Portland. We've got a call in, there.
Update, 9:22am, tuesday September 22:
The city lost 69 conventions in 2008 because of convention hotel issues—either because there’s no big hotel opposite the Oregon Convention Center on NE Martin Luther King Boulevard, or because guests would have to divide themselves between too many smaller hotels—says Jeff Miller, chief executive of Travel Portland, a public/private partnership agency that tries to lure tourists and business travelers to the region. Travel Portland booked a total of 426 meetings last year, which brought a combined $134million to the region, including 50 conventions, Miller says.
“I’m disappointed because of the lost economic impact to the city,” says Miller, who says Dallas just broke ground on a similar 1,200-room publicly funded project after having gone through a fight rather like Portland’s, which has been contentious over recent years. “It’s a lot about political will,” rues Miller. More in this week's paper.
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5.How will these efforts tie in with Portland's "economic development strategy," which is yet to come up with an implementation strategy?
"We do have a lot of work still to do on the four economic development areas," says Adams. "The visitor industry is part of each of those four areas, but it is also a standalone effort outside."
6.Is there an element of blind optimism in Portland's efforts to lure visitors from around the world? If we book them, they will come?
"It's conventions," says Adams. "We've done well in terms of turning people's interest in the region into attracting convention business, but it's always been a challenge." "There should not be blind optimism about our efforts to bring conventions to Portland," he continues. "Because the competition is so fierce."