This Week in the Mercury


Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Convention Center Hotel and Tetherball

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Thu, Sep 19, 2013 at 1:44 PM

You know tetherball? And how seasoned tetherball players get into a rhythm where they slap the ball each time it swings past, sustaining and speeding it on to its inevitable end while their opponents can only watch?

Metro Council President Tom Hughes and other supporters are doing that with a proposed hotel near the Oregon Convention Center.

As Denis succinctly explained in this week's issue, the $198 million Hyatt's had momentum for a while now. And over the past two days, Hughes, labor representatives, and others have deftly thwacked the speeding hotel project in hearings before the Portland City Council and Multnomah County Board of Commissioners.

The project needs the support of three governments—Metro, the city, and the county—to proceed. It now has it. City council voted 4-1 to approve a memorandum of understanding yesterday (Commissioner Steve Novick opposes public subsidies for the private enterprise). County commissioners enthusiastically followed suit this morning. Metro councilors gave their first okay for the project in August. The only remaining step before Metro begins final negotiations: City council must formally approve an intergovernmental agreement next week—a measure that will certainly pass.

This morning's testimony before county commissioners was a near-mirror to yesterday's city council hearing—even including some of the same speeches.

"As you know, I have been a skeptic," said Interim County Chair Marissa Madrigal, presiding over the first board meeting since her former boss, Jeff Cogen, resigned Monday. "But as I look at the people that we serve and the needs that we have and the stories that we heard today, there is a great need with our clients to be able to access jobs. There are so many barriers that our folks face."

Madrigal was referring to one of the proposal's shiniest claims [pdf]: that it will deliver nearly a thousand long-term, well-paying jobs. Backers say the hotel also will draw robust new interest in the convention center, generating lodging taxes that easily replenish $78 million in public finances.

Opponents—many affiliated with westside hotels—are concerned the public subsidies will give Hyatt a leg up in Portland's competitive market. They also worry Hyatt's agreement to pay employees a higher-than-typical wage, as part of a labor peace agreement, will put pressure on other hotels to pay their workers a few thousand more a year.

But, for now, all those folks can do is watch the ball circle the pole.

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