Time to fold
Sometimes when I play video poker on my home computer, I lose some money (all pretend money, of course, with my little home program). But I'll keep playing and playing, sometimes until all hours, trying to win it back. I forget Kenny Rogers's admonition, "You got to know when to fold 'em." By the time I give up, I'm just as far behind as when I should have quit, if not more so. Plus, I've wasted a lot of time, and I'm exhausted to boot.
The City of Portland has been behaving exactly the same way in connection with the Oregon Convention Center, and there's no sign it's going to call it a night any time soon.
Just yesterday we hear that, it's official, no one's going to build a large flagship hotel near the Convention Center unless the city's taxpayers pay a good chunk of the construction cost. And of course, the City Council and its slush fund, the Portland Development Commission, are hard at work figuring out how to raise those tax dollars and get the hotel built.
What a crock. As I've argued on this blog at least once before, the Convention Center was a flop when it was smaller, and it's an even bigger flop now that the city has paid $116 million to double its largely empty space. That expansion never should have taken place until the hotel issue was settled, but Vera, Erik & Co. ran right out and spent tax dollars to build it, despite a clear mandate from voters that they didn't want it.
That misstep came along with the renovation of Civic Stadium -- tens of millions spent on luxury boxes and the like, for minor league baseball and funky league soccer. All of which has led to a string of fiscal disasters for our cash-strapped city.
Together these are among the worst public financing decisions in the city's history. Sure, the commissioners will tell you that the wasted money is all coming out of the hotel-motel tax, which is paid by tourists. But that's the same malarkey they'll try to sell about how the hotel is going to be built from "urban renewal" funds. There are "different pots of money," "different colors of money," and we should focus on the pots and the colors, rather than on the fact that it's all coming from us taxpayers.
Call them out on it. Those are all tax dollars that should have been spent on public safety and schools. We didn't need a larger white elephant Convention Center, and we don't need a white elephant hotel on top of it.
Portland's never been a good convention city, and there is a very good chance that it never will be. It's time to fold 'em while we're only down $116 million.
Regardless of how the hotel financing goes, I think we ought to name the new wing of the Convention Center after Mayor Katz. It's quite the symbol of her tenure, which, mercifully, will be ending soon: very, very expensive, and mostly empty, most of the time.