Metro, the Portland-area’s regional government organization, owns the city’s east-side Convention Center, and it’s losing money on the deal — some $10 million in 2011 alone, according to Oregon Tax News. To stem the loss, it plans to shovel a truck full of public money into a new hotel nearby.
The idea — build a hotel and conventioneers will flock to fill it — is not new. What is new is that this year the Oregon Legislature allowed itself to be persuaded to put $10 million in lottery bond proceeds toward the deal. That’s just a fraction of the public money that will go toward the hotel, which Metro and the city of Portland have tried to get built for more than 20 years.
In all, publicly backed bonds, loans and grants will supply some $78 million of the more than $195 million cost to build the 600-room hotel; private developers will put up another $117 million.
That may not be the end of it, either. There’s also talk of refunding transient room taxes to Hyatt, which will run the hotel, if the facility isn’t the moneymaker its supporters hope it will be.
There’s no guarantee a hotel at the convention center will draw enough business to stem the latter’s loss, either. In fact, Metro could end up with two money-losers on its hands if the gamble doesn’t pay off.
Oregon taxpayers would not be directly on the hook if things go south for Metro, but they should be concerned about the arrangement just the same. Lottery revenues are supposed to be used to improve the economy, and the evidence that this project will do that is sketchy, at best. Worse, for Portlanders, at least, should be the knowledge that other hotels in the area, from the Hilton downtown to the Red Lion near the center, will see the taxes they collect from their own guests used to support a fancy new competitor.
Fortunately the deal is far from done, and Metro still must persuade other governments in the area to shoulder part of the financial burden. We hope they fail. The lottery bond money surely could be put to better use.