Benson Hotel Loses Large Corporate Customer Scared Off by Downtown Portland Conditions

“Too many homeless and crazy people running around.”

DOWNTOWN FUNK: Listening to music on the Portland Transit Mall. (Brian Brose)

In another blow to Portland’s struggling downtown, the Benson Hotel has lost a recurring corporate contract for 300 rooms a month because of “safety issues,” and the hotel’s owner is mulling a lawsuit against the city, according to an email obtained by WW.

“The city is not living up to its duty to provide basic services (cleanliness, safety & security),” an executive from Coast Hospitality Management, the company that owns the Benson, said in an email to Jason Brandt, president of the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association. “Too many homeless and crazy people running around. Suffice to say, I’m furious!”

The Coast Hospitality executive didn’t name the corporate customer that left. But Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines “have been unwilling to come back in full for the same reason,” he wrote.

“I am thinking seriously about suing the city,” the executive said. “I’ve got to believe we can get other hoteliers to join in and make it a class action suit. We are not the only ones suffering.”

Contacted by WW for comment, the executive declined to say anything beyond what was in the email.

The Benson, located on Southwest Broadway at Oak Street, has 287 rooms. The departing customer paid $156 a night for 300 rooms over the course of each month, the executive said.

“It’s a $50K monthly contract for The Benson,” the executive wrote.

In a response to that email, also obtained by WW, an attorney for the restaurant association named Matthew Lowe said his firm was exploring “a plausible theory” for suing the city. “That goes against my general predisposition to counsel clients out of litigation given the cost and burden,” Lowe wrote, “but this appears to be an instance where we can only make headway with the city if we can get a court order.”

Lowe did not return a call from WW seeking comment.

“There is a growing number of businesses (both in our industry and outside our industry) that continue to be deeply concerned about public safety and cleanliness issues in Portland,” Brandt, the restaurant association head, said in an email to WW. “We look forward to being a partner in any way we can to create a laser-like focus on these fundamental responsibilities of local government.”

The Benson’s loss comes at a rough time for Portland, which has been struggling to recover from the pandemic, protests and rioting that rocked downtown for much of 2020 and 2021.

While many American cities have seen people return, Portland has not, according to researchers at the University of California, Berkeley. They used cellphone GPS data to see how many people were returning to businesses, bars, restaurants, and other attractions in 62 downtowns across the county.

In the latest period, March through May of this year, Portland came in 60th, with a recovery value of 41% compared with 2019. Only San Francisco (31%) and Cleveland (36%) fared worse.

Lodging taxes tell the same story. Taxes collected from hotels and motels fell 22% in the fiscal year ended June 2020 and tumbled another 62% in fiscal 2021, according to figures from Metro, the regional government. Though incomplete, tax receipts for the year ended in June are still down 50% from 2019 levels.

Jeff Miller, president of Travel Portland, a group that promotes Portland as a tourist destination, said he couldn’t quantify how the city’s “livability challenges” had affected downtown tourism.

“Tourism recovery has begun in the city of Portland, but the extent that these livability issues have slowed our recovery is not known and cannot accurately be determined by our organization,” Miller said in an email. “Leisure travel is leading the recovery and business travel is lagging behind, which is the case in many cities.”

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