Hall Monitor 

The Hotel Inside the Onion

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QUIETLY AND STEADILY, Metro has been gathering support from its partners—Portland, Multnomah County, and the Oregon Legislature—in hopes of building a publicly financed Hyatt hotel just across from the Oregon Convention Center.

The hotel, supporters argue, will work like a blue boner pill for the city's struggling industrial Eastside. It also could serve as a prominent enticement for dozens of smaller trade shows that otherwise would pass Portland by.

And it's happening soon. A decision on the multimillion-dollar project is expected this summer—following a complex chain of votes and promises.

First, Metro must persuade lawmakers to tap $12 million from the state's lottery fund, a big piece of the direct public financing and potentially fatal if it falls through. Then the Metro Council must vote (on a term sheet that's still, at this point, under wraps). That decision, in turn, will be followed by side agreements with the county and the city, whose urban renewal agency will pump in $4 million, matching Metro.

The upshot is that Metro wants to fund the rest of its share borrowing against whatever lodging taxes the hotel generates over the next 30 years—about $111 million.

But just as steadily—and far less quietly, now that the end of the legislative session is upon us—a group of opponents has risen to try to block Metro's project, long considered a white whale in local political circles. And this is where things get even more complicated.

Those foes, calling themselves Our Unfortunate Convention Hotel, or OUCH, have raised some serious concerns about the project. And they've paid Paige Richardson of Springwater Partners to press those claims on their behalf.

No, the public hasn't seen a proper term sheet yet. Yes, taxpayers are on the hook if the hotel fails to perform. And, yes, even as hotel and convention space increases across the country, driving up competition, reports show overall attendance at trade shows has kept stagnant and, in some cases, been inflated.

Those concerns are worthy, and Metro and its partners must allay each of them before any vote. But they might obscure what's really at stake for OUCH.

Because OUCH, it's worth noting, is made up of rival hotel outfits who don't much like the idea that governments are giving a competitor, Hyatt, a super sweet deal to come to town.

They're a little worried about competition—especially if promises of new trade shows bearing thousands of customers, more than enough for everyone to share, fail to materialize.

But some hotels are also keenly aware that Hyatt has signed a labor peace deal that local union organizers hail as a milestone that might put some pressure on other hotels to pay their workers a few thousand more a year.

"Their concern is exactly that," says Erik Van Rossum of Unite Here Local 8. "They'll have to pay their workers a little bit more."

OUCH likes to talk about Hyatt's terrible labor record. It doesn't like talking about labor's support for Hyatt. And that talking point may drown out all the others.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly listed the name of the political consulting firm working with OUCH. The column has been updated.

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