City Hall Greenlights Convention Center Hyatt

Portland City Council voted this evening to approve Metro's plan for a Hyatt hotel at the Oregon Convention Center, accepting the $198 million plan presented by Metro Council President Tom Hughes with only a minor amendment.

"The risk is reasonable, the opportunity is considerable, and this investment supports our values," said Mayor Charlie Hales. "This investment passes those tests."

The 4-1 vote means the three-government agreement needs only Multnomah County to approve it, which county commissioners have said they'll do Thursday.

As WW reported in this morning's cover story, Hughes brought a proposal that offered little risk to the city—and millions of dollars in incentives.

Hughes came to council today with the goal of assuaging any doubts commissioners might still harbor about the risks of investing $80 million in public money into an uncertain convention market.

"We don't have to speculate what the worst-case scenario is," Hughes said. "We've seen the worst-case scenario. Multiple airplanes flying into buildings pretty much tanked the tourism industry. We've seen the worst, and we've survived through that."

Hughes said the best guarantee of the hotel's success is Hyatt's backing.

"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."

City Council, which had been toying with amendments to its intergovernmental agreement with Metro and county, added only the qualification from City Commissioner Nick Fish that all three governments receive quarterly performance reports from Hyatt.

Fish warned this would be his last vote for an addition to the poorly performing Oregon Convention Center.

"This hotel is either the final linchpin, or… I don't know what, Tom," Fish said. "We can't go back to the public again."

Commissioner Steve Novick cast the only vote against the hotel project, saying he wasn't convinced Hyatt needed the government subsidy.

"Portland is a destination in demand by Hyatt customers," Novick said. "Even if they're not going to build this hotel, they're going to build a hotel in Portland. I don't think it's a matter of this hotel or no hotel at all." 

The proposal has drawn heated opposition from downtown hotelier Gordon Sondland—who is expected to place the proposal on the ballot next year—and Tuesday saw the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association deride Metro's job and revenue projections.

Public testimony this afternoon was overwhelmingly positive, however.

The Portland Business Alliance offered support, and the hearing was dominated by trade unions, promised lots of construction jobs and a union-friendly hotel.

One member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 48 pledged to keep his testimony brief "because actually my daughter is in labor right now, having my first grandchild."

Fish replied: "We're not surprised your daughter is a supporter of the labor movement."

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