by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | September 12, 2012

Rendering of proposed Portland HyattsThis week, a proposal for a Hyatt hotel (or maybe two) adjacent to the Oregon Convention Center will go to a vote. Not to a public ballot vote, but to the city's governing body with evaluating the two proposals -- one, a 600-room Hyatt Regency; the other, two side-by-side hotels (right): a 420-room Hyatt Regency and a 181-room Hyatt Place, both funded by private investment. Convention center officials are eager to move forward on either option, as the basic idea has been kicking around since 2007, when a plan for a bond-funded, city-owned hotel was shot down due to the tanking economy. Five years later, though, things are looking a lot brighter.

According to Scott Cruickshank, executive director of the Oregon Convention Center (which has close to 400,000 square feet of meeting space), the potential economic gains for Portland are huge. Just having a convention center hotel, he says, would be a huge selling point to woo meeting planners to the city. "We estimate that we lost 30 conventions last year because we did not have a property adjacent to our center," Cruickshank told The Hotel Insider. At present, the city's two major meeting hotels, the 700-room Hilton and the 500-room Marriott, are almost two miles away, requiring planners to transport attendees. "It won't solve all our problems as a convention destination, but having a headquarter hotel creates a core spot, which right now we don't have," noted Cruickshank. He added that the city's immediate competition for meetings, such as San Antonio; Phoenix; and Long Beach, Calif., all have big brand, full-service hotels adjacent, if not attached, to their convention centers.

The Hyatt proposals, which range in cost from $157 million to $201 million, beat out a competing proposal from Sheraton, led by Portland-based Langley Investment Properties, largely because it did not have committed financing in place, said Cruickshank. Given that Sheraton parent company Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide has made being "asset light" a cornerstone of its new financial strategy, that is not surprising. Hyatt's plans, on the other hand, call for owning the hotel, not just managing it. For those who argue that the convention center needs an actual downtown area, along with a headquarter hotel, to attract conventioneers, Cruickshank said, "We believe the hotel project will create the growth for shops and restaurants around the center. Imagine 3,000 people spilling out onto the streets after the day's show. You can see the opportunity for economic growth, because they will want to stay right in this neighborhood, rather than head back to their hotels."

If the proposal goes forward, construction would begin in 2013 and wrap up in 2015. My money is on the two-property Hyatt proposal. At most it requires only $8 million to $10 million in public funding, which will most likely come from an additional hotel tax for a set number of years. Where's the risk in that? Meeting planners, how would Portland having a convention center hotel affect its appeal as a destination for your events?