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PORTLAND-The City of Portland has secured a new operator for the 97-room hotel located across MLK Boulevard from the Oregon Convention Center. A subsidiary of Wright Hotels Inc., owner of the nearby Holiday Inn on Grand Avenue, will operate the former Best Western property as an independent hotel. Its new name is Inn at Convention Center.

The Portland Development Commission paid Gene Ferryman $5.2 million for the run-down Best Western in July, in part because the land, if combined with other adjacent parcels, could be used for a real convention center hotel, one in excess of 500 rooms. In the meantime, though, because it was run-down and adjacent the convention center, which is undergoing a $90-million expansion, the City wanted to purchase the property in order to give it a facelift.

The PDC’s Michael McElwee tells GlobeSt.com that the City decided to take the hotel independent because Best Western was demanding some pretty hefty improvements if the city wanted to keep the affiliation. “They wanted us to send them $50,000 so they could come in and draft a property improvement plan that would ultimately call for between $600,000 and $800,000 in improvements,” says McElwee. “So we decided it would be better to close the hotel and re-open it as an independent.”

The three-year deal with Wright Hotels was closed Thursday afternoon. It calls for the PDC and the Wright Hotels subsidiary to put up a combined $90,000 for upgrades, including basic shell improvements as well as new beds and new computers. Once revenues are such that the investment can be paid back, the City and Wright Hotels would split any subsequent upside on a 50-50 basis, McElwee tells GlobeSt.com.

Elwee says all of the former Best Western employees have found new jobs except for the general manager and the head maintenance person, both of whom will assume the same positions for Inn at Convention Center. Thanks to lower debt service requirements because it is city-owned, Elwee says the hotel can operate at a lower occupancy level than most hotels and still break even, though he hopes the hotel will be profitable.

Then again, it may not have to worry about only breaking even. Dennis White, manager of Wright’s Holiday Inn property across Grand Avenue from Inn at Convention Center, told GlobeSt.com on Thursday afternoon that would-be guests were already lining up for rooms at Inn at Convention Center and he was waiting for word that the deal had closed before reopening the hotel’s doors later that evening.

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