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PSU buys Doubletree hotel

Portland State has taken over occupancy of the Doubletree hotel at Southwest Fourth Avenue and Lincoln Street and will reopen it May 1 as University Place, an educational conference center.

As financing becomes available in future years, the university will tear down the hotel and build a multiple-use academic structure including underground parking. Both Jay Kenton, vice president for finance and administration, and Cathy Dyck, associate vice president for finance and planning, emphasized that PSU coveted the property for its 4.2 acres of contiguous land close to existing university structures.

Last October, when the Doubletree purchase began to surface as a potential, Kenton said, “That site actually has the capacity to carry somewhere between 800,000 and 1 million square feet of space. More than anything, I would like to have the development potential of having a site like that.”

Now the university has it. Title was conveyed to the State of Oregon March 2 after a complicated procedure. The Portland Development Commission acquired the property under the law of eminent domain and conveyed it to Portland State.

The purchase price for the property was $19.7 million. PSU paid an additional $2.6 million for furniture, fixtures and equipment, making a total of $22.3 million. Payment will be financed through 30-year revenue bonds, paid back through revenue from this building.

Kenton negotiated the intricacies of the acquisition and now has assigned Dyck to supervise the details of the transition to a conference center.

Red Lion Inns Operating LP, doing business as Doubletree, elected to “go dark” for two months and assume the operating costs, giving PSU access to prepare for the May 1 opening.

“We have the keys,” Dyck said. “We are in there. We’re on the fast track. We are working on Internet connections. We are working on telephones. We will be doing a deep cleaning of the rooms, both the 235 sleeping rooms and the conference rooms, towards the end of this month.”

The rooms may be used as temporary overflow student housing for fall term if needed. The Broadway student housing will be opening fall term with 384 studio apartments that will absorb some of the housing demand. The university will use the Doubletree for housing students temporarily until something more permanent becomes available.

“You always have some people who move off-campus,” Dyck said. Since the Doubletree rooms have no kitchens, any temporaries will have a meal plan served out of the Doubletree kitchen.

Some operational positions have already been filled and a number of job openings were being advertised this week, including front desk jobs. Facilities is handling housekeeping, and has offered positions to members of the Doubletree staff. Some jobs will be filled by students. A small market on the site will continue to run under supervision of Kristine Wise, university market manager. She will be hiring staff for that location, as well.

The restaurant and cocktail lounge at Doubletree will continue to operate under Sodexho Campus Services, who will also do catering. Besides offering the University Place Grill, the kitchen will serve express breakfast buffets daily.

The Doubletree featured high speed Internet access in the rooms but PSU will not continue that service, as it remains too expensive. Regular Internet access will be available through room phones. There will also be some wireless connections available. A small business center will offer high-speed access, plus copy machines and other business amenities, all on a usage fee basis.

The PSU marketing department is in the final stages of refining a color brochure for University Place. It presents the facility as an educational conference center with 8,000 square feet of conference space, a restaurant and 235 guest rooms. The brochure solicits use by educational conferences for academic institutions and state and government agencies, university faculty and staff, visitors to Portland State and alumni and friends of the university. There will be no free use of the space.

The Columbia Falls ballroom seats 400 people, for a banquet, 340. The Willamette Falls ballroom accommodates an additional 128 to 190 in theater-style seating.

As for the future, Dyck emphasized, “What we really want is the 4.2 acres. To acquire 4.2 acres in this area is very difficult. The eventual plan is to use that space to build more student housing, faculty and staff housing, classrooms and a new conference center when this one is torn down.”

Dyck said the hope is that initially the university can build something on a corner without tearing the present structure down. Eventually if there is underground parking, the university would take one wing of the hotel down at a time and finally the whole building.

“But that’s over a period of many years,” Dyck said. “We’re not going to build it unless we can fill it and we have to be able to have the revenue to pay for it.” There is no as yet no firm prognosis as to when that will be.

Traffic and Transportation at PSU is running the surface parking at the Doubletree site. They will be offering some permits there this spring. Some people now parked in the engineering parking garage in the Fourth Avenue Building basements will be moved when construction begins on the new engineering building.

Conventional academic uses would not be an option for the Doubletree building, since all uses must bring an income. It would more likely be used for faculty members who bring association conferences to the city, and university events may be held there if a department chooses to schedule an event at the center which can be paid for out of their own budget.

“We’re hoping to maybe have a parents weekend,” Dyck said. “And the alumni might be able to do something with their PSU Weekend.”

Nine different campus committees have been working on different aspects of the Doubletree project, such as staffing, overflow housing, security, facilities and services. The marketing committee has a member from the American Plaza Condominiums association.

For conference attendees, the Doubletree location boasts numerous attractions. Besides being close to the central campus, it is near Keller Auditorium, the Performing Arts Center, Waterfront Park and Pioneer Place mall, among other attractions.

There will be a grand opening event, probably Friday afternoon or evening, April 30.

“One of the things I’ve heard from faculty members is that they’re thrilled to have a conference center on campus. That they might be able to showcase Portland State to associations that they belong to,” Dyck said. “So they can have some of their regional meetings here. It’s an opportunity to let some of their counterparts see Portland and Portland State.”

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