Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Convention center lodging for our times

Who brought the s'mores?

The juxtaposition of two news stories just gave me an idea. The first is an article in the Business Journal about the proposal for a $240 million convention center hotel, a proposal that is still alive despite misgivings by a lot of people that it will never pencil out.

This story says that Metro is extending its review of the project for another 75 days because of “uncertainty of current market conditions, the commitment to fund the hotel using only existing funding sources and the need to coordinate multiple inter-governmental and public-private agreements” in bumping the project.

The second is the big news that the economy is going crash if American taxpayers don’t chip in $700 – 800 billion to save failing financial services companies. You have read all about that, I’m sure, but this account sums it up best.

Bailout or no bailout, the economy is going to suck for quite awhile. A lot of businesses will feel a pinch, if not a cramp. Consequently, their trade associations will be forced to cut back on their lavish annual conventions. In this economic climate, finding a private party willing to erect a luxury hotel in Portland will be harder than finding an optimistic Mets fan in Queens.

Instead, Metro ought to look to an outfit like REI or G.I. Joes to operate the Portland Convention Center Campground.

Most major conventions are held in the summer, which in Portland, after the Rose Festival is over, is usually gorgeous. Rather than check into a bland, generic hotel room at $400 a night, conventioneers would pitch a tent in a lush green meadow, shaded by towering fir trees for a tenth the cost. They could bring their own tents and camping gear or rent them from the park host. There’s some vacant land down by the river not far from the convention center that would work, as well as some blocks north and south of the center that could be converted to campground land.

Think of the green brownie points Portland—and the convention sponsors—would receive.

Those convention goers who can’t handle sleeping on the ground could check into the adjacent Portland Convention Center RV Park. Plenty of pull through full hookups with satellite dish television and either wifi or broadband cable to each site. The RV park would have plenty of motorhomes available to rent. Now is the time to jump on this idea, since dozens of RV manufacturers are going into bankruptcy because consumers are no longer buying their 50-foot, six-miles-to-the-gallon behemoths. A lot of these motorhomes are being unloaded at very reasonable prices, according to a friend who manages the annul RV Show at the Expo Center.

Now maybe the American Bankers Association is unlikely to choose Portland with its back-to-nature facilities, but then again, the bankers may not even be holding a convention for awhile. Who might go for it? Obviously, camping equipment businesses. Also other industries involved in outdoor recreation. Probably the trade association for bicycling companies, organic foods, alternative health care and green energy. These, by the way, are all growth industries.

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