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The $106 million Oregon Convention Center expansion project has been postponed for at least two months as officials wait to see if Measure 93 passes.

Measure 93, an initiative petition by Bill Sizemore’s Oregon Taxpayers Union, requires voter approval of all of all tax and fee increases. It includes a two-year retroactive clause that would take away the 2.5 percentage point increases in Multnomah County’s vehicle rental and hotel taxes slated to cover much of the convention center expansion.

Mark Williams, general manager of the Metropolitan Exposition-Recreation Commission, which operates the convention center, says MERC will be ready to start right after the election if Measure 93 does not pass. If it passes, city officials have indicated they would probably place the lodging tax increases on a special-election ballot as early as the following March.

Construction on the project, which would add 180,000 square feet of space and 350 parking spaces to the 11-year-old facility, was to begin next month.

The lodging tax increases – earmarked to pay for a $96 million bond sale by the city that would pay for the expansion – was approved by the Multnomah County Commission last spring. It was adopted with the support of the lodging industry, which is hoping for higher occupancy rates as a result.

The bond sale has been postponed along with the expansion, of course, leaving project officials short of money to continue design work, in part because $10 million from convention center reserves and the Portland Development Commission can’t be handed over as intended until an amendment is made to the 1989 Urban Rewnewal Plan that covers the convention center district.

The Portland Planning Commission has scheduled a Sept. 12 meeting to consider an amendment to the Urban Renewal Plan allowing PDC to contribute to the project. In the meantime, the city is lending the project $5 million from its water fund to keep things moving.

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