Metro Council President Tom Hughes didn't need say much to convince Portland City Council to cast the key votes for his long-desired $198 million Oregon Convention Center hotel. All five commissioners had tipped their hands well before the Wednesday vote.
Yet when Hughes presented the plan at City Hall, he made a bold claim: The Hyatt-run hotel at the convention center would succeed, because Hyatts don't fail.
"We can find no example of a Hyatt failing," Hughes said. "So the question—'What if it fails?'—it would be the first example of a Hyatt failing in the United States."
It took only hours for the hotel's opponents to offer examples.
Paige Richardson, a consultant working for downtown hotelier Gordon Sondland, quickly sent WW a list of Hyatt projects in financial distress in recent years.
1. The Arcade, a downtown Cleveland shopping and dining development with a 293-room Hyatt, was sold at a sheriff's auction in 2011 after the bank foreclosed. The property's private owner defaulted on a $33.3 million mortgage.
"Even if Bank of America recoups its investment," The Cleveland Scene wrote, "investors including the city of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County are unlikely to see any cash. Property records show the county has a $2 million mortgage on the Arcade, while Cleveland lent $1 million."
2. The Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront was transferred back to its lenders in March after the owners of the 963-room hotel fell behind on a $150 million mortgage.
“Whether it’s owned by the previous owners or the new owner," manager Dan King told The Florida Times-Union, "it operates under the standards of Hyatt.”
3. The Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay, owned by the state of Maryland, dipped into its reserve fund this summer and is in danger of defaulting.
The Baltimore Sun reported in June:
MEDCO financed the hotel's construction in 2002, issuing more than $120 million in tax-exempt revenue bonds, which are designed to be paid for out of the revenue a project creates.
The state helped build the 400-room, six-story hotel to shore up the economy in Cambridge and Dorchester County at a time when the community was reeling from the closure of manufacturing and seafood packing operations. Sprawling across 400 acres, the resort features an 18-hole golf course, marina and meeting space.
But the luxury resort, rated four diamonds by AAA, has struggled since the recession eroded corporate and leisure travel, acknowledged Robert Brennan, executive director of MEDCO, which promotes economic activity in Maryland.
The hotel's financial statements show it hasn't earned enough from operations to cover expenses, let alone cover its debt payments, for several years.
As a result, the Hyatt started drawing down its debt service reserve fund in December 2010 to make the semiannual payments, according to documents sent to bondholders. The reserve has dwindled to around 15 percent of the amount required by its bond covenants, leaving little cushion for future revenue shortfalls.
Hughes' chief of staff Andy Shaw tells WW that Hughes was referring to Hyatts going bankrupt—and these cases don't qualify.
"From what we can see, these don't look like 'failed Hyatts,'" says Shaw. "It doesn't appear they were failed hotels. It appears they were failed real-estate deals."
Shaw looked at these examples this morning after he and Hughes attended the Multnomah County Commission, where the board unanimously approved the hotel plan.