Nearly 30 years after it was first proposed, regional leaders set shovels to dirt Friday in the first concrete step to make an Oregon Convention Center hotel a reality.
A ceremonial groundbreaking, attended by about 200 people, marked the beginning of construction of the Hyatt Regency Portland, a $244 million, 600-room hotel that is scheduled to open in 2019.
The hotel, on the northwest corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and Holladay Street, will feature ballrooms, restaurants and views of the city. But it’s the operational aspects that make it special to regional leaders.
Hyatt agreed to hold 500 of the hotel’s 600 rooms for large conventions that Travel Portland hopes to recruit to Oregon. It also agreed to a groundbreaking labor peace agreement that set the stage for improved union relations for a company famously cautious about labor relations. And the project is working to improve access to both minority- and woman-owned contracting businesses, but also to helping minorities and women looking to enter the trades as individuals.
All in all, regional leaders expect Hyatt visitors to spend $120 million a year around greater Portland. The hotel project received $14 million in local and state government grants. Room taxes generated at the hotel are expected to contribute another $60 million toward the project.
“Who’d have thought? Here we are!” said Metro Council President Tom Hughes, who has made the hotel his top priority since being elected to the council in 2010. “It’s a very special day for Metro, the city of Portland and the Portland region and general to have this project off the ground.”
The day was a long time coming. Visitors to the Oregon Convention Center’s grand opening in 1989 were greeted by a billboard across the street that said “Future site of Headquarters Hotel!” Dozens of mayors, county commissioners and Metro councilors worked on plans to get a hotel built near the convention center, but the project never had the critical mass it needed to move forward.
Hughes said he met with Lloyd District business leaders in 2010, during his campaign for Metro Council President, and told them he thought the project wouldn’t pencil out.
“They told me it pencils out financially, it just doesn’t pencil out politically,” Hughes said. “I said, ‘I kind of do politics, so let’s make this happen.’”
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said the project is emblematic of the city’s growing economy.
“But,” he said, “our growing economy has also exacerbated inequities that we must address to ensure shared prosperity.”
Part of addressing that was a $300,000 contribution by developer Mortenson Construction for an apprenticeship workforce development plan. That plan will improve access to trade careers for people of color and women who traditionally are underrepresented in the trades.
Karis Stoudamire-Phillips, chair of the Metropolitan Exposition and Recreation Commission, said the project will help local community members through Metro's First Opportunity Target Area program, which has, for 28 years, sought to improve access to convention center jobs for historically disadvantaged community members.
"With this project, MERC, Metro, Hyatt, and Mortenson have made a strong commitment to communities of color, women, and other communities that are often vulnerable to displacement with economic growth," said . "I want to thank Hyatt for their firmly stated commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in their hiring practices when they begin to staff the new hotel. Hyatt has committed to working with over a dozen local community groups to ensure there is a diverse hiring pool and the hotel staff can reflect the ever-changing face of Portland."'