|By Allan Brettman, The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
May 10, 2005 -VANCOUVER -- The Hilton Vancouver Washington hotel and the attached Vancouver Convention Center have that expectant look.
"It's like the final hours of labor," said Kirsta Scranton, project manager for the builder, FaulknerUSA of Austin, Texas. "You've got all of the problems and all of the excitement."
The $73.1 million project, however, does not have an opening date, said Gerry Link, general manager of the 226-room, seven-story hotel. Hilton manages the hotel, which is owned by the city of Vancouver and Clark County.
Although an early June opening is possible, "a lot of things have to be completed," Link said, adding that officials are saying only that the hotel will be open July 1. A "Gala Grand Opening" to benefit the local philanthropic organization Swift is scheduled for Sept. 17.
Link and three of his 35 staff members led a tour Monday through parts of the hotel for the Clark County Public Facilities District board.
The hotel staff, currently housed in an office at nearby Vancouvercenter, has led many similar tours as the project nears completion. About 85 percent of the 200-employee staff has been hired, and most will begin training "very, very soon," Link said.
The tour offered a glimpse of the expansive lobby, which is dominated by a 23-foot-high ceiling, maple-encased pillars and granite flooring.
The hotel at the corner of Sixth and Columbia streets, designed by Fletcher Farr Ayotte of Portland, has plenty of north-facing glass that offers expansive views of Esther Short Park.
The group visited the primary reason city and county officials have pursued the project for more than 20 years: the conference meeting rooms.
The 14,000-square-foot Heritage Ballroom can accommodate up to 1,000 people and the 7,500-square-foot Discovery Ballroom can hold 500 people. The 18-foot-high ceilings are accented by huge alabaster- and amber-colored acrylic light fixtures, designed by Eleek Inc. of Portland, whose work is found in other hotel rooms.
The group lingered in the 144-seat hotel dining room, Gray's at the Park, named for Capt. Robert Gray, who entered and named the Columbia River in 1792. The restaurant adjoins a 44-seat lounge.
Executive Chef Nathan Read, formerly of the Porto Terra Tuscan Grill & Bar at the Hilton Portland and a fourth-generation Washington resident, will oversee food preparation.
"We're also looking forward to Nathan walking out to the (Vancouver) Farmer's Market" at the Esther Short Commons "and making some connections there," Link said.
"We think this restaurant will compete with anything in town and even on the Portland side," said Link, who has worked for Hilton for eight years, most recently at the DoubleTree hotel in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Link said bookings for rooms and meetings have been good, but he would not divulge sales figures.
He also dismissed the significance of a study by The Brookings Institution released in January that questioned the wisdom of local governments investing public money in convention center and convention center hotels.
Vancouver and Clark County have invested public money in the downtown project. Portland officials are exploring doing the same to build a hotel near the Oregon Convention Center.
It's too early to say whether the Vancouver project will follow a pattern of underperforming publicly funded projects, said the study's author, Heywood Sanders, professor of public administration at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
"You're not going to be able to assess Vancouver until it actually performs," said Sanders, whose study mentions projects in many cities, but not Vancouver.
Link also said the Hilton Vancouver Washington would be able to hold its own in the Clark County market even if four proposed hotels are built in the county.
"You never know quite how that will affect" the market, he said. "We look forward to see what happens."
Link said the local Hilton's name has been valuable in distinguishing it from two Hilton hotels in Vancouver, B.C.
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