As the current flood of apartment building continues to dominate Portland’s construction industry, a new wave of hotels is about to hit the city head on. With over 1500 hotel rooms in the pipeline, downtown will see an impressive 15% jump in total rooms available. A little less than half of which, 600 rooms, will come from the long-delayed Convention Center Hotel which appears to be finally coming to fruition.
After years of controversy, it appears that Metro’s dream of a Convention Center Hotel will come in the form of a 19-21 story Hyatt Regency that is being financed primarily by private investment accompanied by publicly-subsidized bonds that will be paid for by a lodging tax on the very beds being built. The controversy is hardly over however, as the proposal has come under fire for sprawling out onto the equivalent of three city blocks including a 400-stall parking garage and an undesirably redundant hardscaped plaza. The proposal for the full-block parking garage comes as a particular disappointment as the site was previously set to become the 100 Multnomah Office Tower, a 500,000 sq. ft office building reaching 19 stories, a demonstration of just how valuable this site is. Instead, the area between MAX stops will be pushed even further into placelessness, promoting it as the space between places, abandoning yet another part of the city to the automobile. The hotel is already poised to take up a double-sized superblock, shouldn’t a 400-stall garage be easy to incorporate above or below ground in just two stories? Why waste a perfectly developable, high-density city block?
On the opposite side of the development, a large public plaza is proposed directly across the street from an existing plaza that is generally regarded as a dead zone for the vast majority of the year. This absurd detail comes from zoning language that requires public amenities when developing superblocks, but the reason for its absurdity comes from the plazas placement, as a continuation of the existing inactive plaza that rejects MLK and NE Holladay’s urban edge. The last thing the Lloyd District needs is more street setbacks disguised as hardscaped open space, especially when there is a problematic case study directly adjacent to it. The plans are all preliminary at this point, but the direction the development team is heading is worthy of the current criticism regarding it. I doubt anyone is expecting a great piece of architecture to come out of this, even though we definitely should, but any public-private endeavor of this scale needs to, at the very least, have a net positive effect on its surroundings instead of a regressive one.
On the other side of the river several 200-300 room hotels have been proposed downtown. The largest of which will be the Curio by Hilton (pictured at the top), a 16-story tower designed by the architecturally underwhelming Hogan Campis Architecture of Atlanta, along with Myhre Group as the local, that is set to replace the recently-razed Pendleton Building and accompanying parking lot at 2nd Avenue and Jefferson. This 300-room project will be relatively impactless to the city’s skyline, hiding behind the neighboring Columbia Square office tower and between the taller Koin and EG-WW Federal, but a welcome addition at the street level regardless. The surrounding area was all developed, or rather redeveloped, around the same time period, resulting in a built environment that has more blank walls than contemporary standards allow. Judging by the details available, and Hogan Campis’ portfolio, this new building will continue Portland’s long-standing tradition of incredibly boring hotel architecture better fit for freeway off-ramps than central cities.
Along the same lines comes two other hotels designed by SERA Architects. The larger comes as a 204-room AC Hotel by Marriott proposed to be built on the existing vacant lot that the city has been sitting on since 1999 at SW 3rd and Taylor (bought for $1.8 million as a derelict property, est. accumulated loss of $250,000 property taxes over 14 years, up for RFO by the PDC earlier this year for market value of $2.5 million). Even though the design for the 13-story tower is in the early stages of development, we can still surmise that this project will be beneficial to the immediate area, bringing new life to a property last used as an adult video shop. The AC Hotel brand is expected to come with an internally focused design, which does not bode well for those wishing for a more innovative facade treatment.
The other SERA designed hotel comes with a much lower stature, the 6-story Hyatt House proposed for SW River Parkway will house 203 rooms, just one short of the 13-story proposal on 3rd Avenue. This full-block development will replace one of the last empty parcels between RiverPlace and South Waterfront, and looking at the latest design scheme, this building will exist relatively unnoticed once built. The guest rooms form a 5-story river-facing ‘U’ shape that sits atop a podium of hotel amenities with one very small retail space on the northeast corner. The only stand-out detail proposed is a large wall-hanging water feature that bubbles from the second level courtyard over the eastern edge, whose sole purpose is to mask a rather unfortunate blank wall caused by the ground level parking garage hidden within.
There are several other hotels proposed for the NW corner of downtown, including a 232-room Hampton Inn at NW 9th and Flanders in the Pearl District. The loss of the two-story and accompanying single-story brick warehouses is rather sad for preservationists, but the 100-year old buildings have suffered from disinvestment and the Pearl District has few remaining redevelopable sites these days. The 8-story building that will replace it, however, has been sent back to the drawing board after the city and residents balked at the ‘cheap airport hotel’ look previously proposed. Not every new hotel requires a tear down, as the old Grove Hotel in Old Town is currently being eyed by a Naito-led team to become a 107-bed hostel. The PDC has been looking at ways to offload the century old hotel for years, but the current revisioning requires no public subsidy and is part of another wave of recent Old Town investments including the remodeling of the nearby Erickson and Fritz buildings.
Regardless of the lack of architectural integrity, the fact that so many new rooms are being proposed is a sure sign that Portland’s economy is indeed improving. Hopefully as it improves, we can start to see some new design actually worth writing about.