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Metro wants court to OK headquarters hotel

Metro has gone to court to hasten a final decision on the legality of its proposed contract and funding plan for a Headquarters Hotel near the Oregon Convention Center, which it owns and operates.

The elected regional government has filed a validation action in Multnomah County Circuit Court on the $200 million project. The filing, which is allowed by Oregon law, is intended to consolidate all legal objections to the project before one judge who will resolve them.

Opponents of the project, which include some downtown hotel owners, have filed a lawsuit in Clackamas County Circuit Court challenging the legality of part of the funding plan. It allows transient lodging taxes collected at the hotel to be dedicated to paying off bonds issued by Metro to help fund the project.

Other funding sources secured for the project include money from the Oregon Lottery, the city of Portland and the developer.

In announcing the filing Tuesday, Metro President Tom Hughes released this statement:

Metro is committed to creating good jobs now and into the future for all residents of our region.

One way we can do this is through the convention center hotel project. Today, Metro, the owner and operator of the Oregon Convention Center, took an important step towards achieving the goals of this job creation initiative by filing an important request with the courts.

But first, let’s consider why conventions matter to our region.

We all benefit from a strong and thriving economy. Central to our economy is tourism. During 2013, we welcomed more than 8 million visitors who injected $4.3 billion into local shops, restaurants and hotels and supported more than 30,000 jobs.

An important element of our tourism economy is the convention industry and its impact cannot be overstated. In 2011, at the height of the recession, conventions-goers spent more than $450 million here, a number that is projected to grow with economic recovery. In addition, conventions support about 4,400 jobs across the tourism industry. While those numbers are impressive, our economy is still underperforming. Portland continues to lose out on the bigger, more lucrative conventions simply because we do not have the hotel rooms to accommodate them.

Two years ago, Metro embarked on a project in partnership with the private sector to build a privately owned and operated hotel adjacent to the convention center with enough capacity to anchor conventions by allowing meeting planners to book hundreds of rooms all at once. This hotel will attract five to 10 more conventions every year, boosting tourism spending and creating jobs here at home.

Since 2012, Metro has worked with its public and business partners to assemble a hotel project that will meet these goals and more. Some of our notable milestones:

Through a competitive process, a volunteer committee that included project critics selected Hyatt Hotels and Mortenson Development as our private partners

At the insistence of the Metro Council and other local leaders, Hyatt brokered an historic labor peace agreement with UNITE HERE, the hotel workers’ union, which has served as a national model for the hospitality industry

Metro worked with its public sector partners at Multnomah County and the city of Portland to update the visitor development agreement and include new tourism investment priorities

The Metro Council approved a preliminary development agreement with Hyatt and Mortenson that guarantees the public benefit elements of the hotel and relies on tourists taxes, not taxes paid by local residents, to leverage nearly $120 million in private investment

Numerous public hearings and open houses have shown overwhelming public support

It is unfortunate for Oregon workers and local business owners that a small but well-funded group of opponents seeks to obstruct and delay this important project. This group has filed lawsuit after lawsuit to halt progress and their track record suggests more are on the way.

To avoid future costly delays, today Metro exercised our rights under ORS 33.710 by filing a validation action in Multnomah County Circuit Court.

Oregon law provides local governments such as Metro with the ability to ask a court to confirm the legality of an action they have taken and address other potential concerns at the same time. The effect is that local governments can address the issues in many potential lawsuits at once by asking the court to examine their work in detail.

Metro’s action asks the court to review the legal decisions upon which the convention hotel project is based.

I am confident that the court will confirm Metro’s legal authority and clear away any doubt that this project should move forward.

Visit http://www.oregonmetro.gov/hotel for information about the Convention Center Hotel project.