BY KEVIN SHETTERLY | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
This past January I was contacted by a representative of the United States Institute of Theatre Technology (USITT). He was scouting cities for their annual convention, and Portland was high on the list. In 2011 this event had 5,023 attendees and booked 1,200 rooms. My company, Stagecraft Industries, could benefit greatly by this opportunity to showcase our facility to the visiting members of our industry. After his visit, however, I heard that although he really liked our convention center, our restaurants, the city and its people, due to the absence of a ‘headquarter hotel’, USITT had decided to take the convention to Salt Lake City.
This disappointment inspired me to investigate the issue, which has been a problem for the entire 23 years since the Oregon Convention Center (OCC) opened.
According to Metro, Portland lost 30 such conventions in 2011 for lack of a headquarter hotel. A survey of national convention organizers found that they were 79% more likely to bring their business to the OCC with an adjacent convention center hotel, as Portland is a highly attractive convention and travel destination.
Metro projects that a headquarter hotel could attract 5 to 10 new national conventions each year, increase convention related tourism spending by $200 million per year, and generate $5.6 million in new state tax revenues and $4.7 million in new local tax revenues annually.
The study also indicates that a person attending a conference spends an average of $333.00 per day. The revenue generated by conventions is similar to that generated by tourism, with very little impact on the infrastructure, and a lot of dollars flowing into the regional economy.
Today, a funding plan for the proposed hotel goes before the Metro Council. The regional government has pledged $10 million of the estimated $197.5 million needed to build the hotel through reserves, loans and lottery funds. Because of this, there is scrutiny from watchdog groups. The opposition seems to be most worried about the taxpayer burden, because if the cost projections are not accurate, the public would be on the hook. But if $197.5 million seems expensive for a 600-room hotel, the projections indicate this would be beneficial for Portland’s economy and workforce. The hotel, for example, would abide by the rules of FOTA, the First Opportunity Target Area, an employment recruitment policy that offers job opportunities to those “living in and around the facility."
Of course, if the numbers pencil out, why not simply put the hotel project out to bid? We don’t have to look far for a case study, as Spokane is breaking ground on a hotel funded by private developers next to their convention center.
I believe having a headquarters hotel for the convention center is good for the city and the state. Holding the USITT convention in Portland certainly would have been beneficial for my company.
Kevin Shetterly is the sales manager for Stagecraft Industries.
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