Steve Faulstick, a longtime Oregon tourism industry leader, is the interim general manager for Metro's visitor venues.

FAULSTICKIn late November, about 17,000 people from the Portland area will get together to support small businesses and bring joy to their families.

They won't do it at a shopping mall or big box store. They'll do it at the Portland Expo Center, which this year celebrates 100 years of service to the people of our region.

The Portland Holiday Bazaar is one of dozens of upcoming events at the Expo Center, events that are critical to many small businesses and support our region's economy at large. In fact, before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the Expo Center supported $54.8 million in economic activity in our region, part of the combined $773 million of economic impact from all of Metro's visitor venues (including the Oregon Convention Center, the Oregon Zoo and Portland'5 Centers for the Arts).

Metro's venues are a key part of our effort to share regional prosperity, bring people together and help support Oregon tourism. In the best of times, our venues help showcase Oregon to the world. In the worst of times, Metro's venues have supported our communities by hosting the All4Oregon vaccine clinic, drive-through COVID testing in safe spaces, and even emergency shelter for people fleeing wildfires and ice storms.

COURTESY PHOTO: METRO - The Portland Expo Center's holiday markets are big draws for the regional facility.The COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder that Metro's venues must remain flexible. The Expo Center was able to support itself financially during the pandemic, in part, by serving as the studio for Season 18 of Top Chef. Other TV and movie producers have taken notice and are looking at the facility for their filming locations.

Metro is embarking in a long-term process to imagine the future of Expo, and we are committed to hearing out every good idea that recognizes the economic importance of the area and honors the cultural history rooted at the North Portland site. Expo has unique and specific cultural histories, many positive memories but some tragic —the government-led seizure of Indigenous land and removal of Indigenous people, the racist internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, and the flooding at the nearby community of Vanport, just downhill from the Expo Center.

As we reopen and re-welcome visitors to Expo this season, we embark on building back better for all our underserved communities. With new ideas and new sources of revenue, an Expo Center at its best use can have an outsized positive impact on our region.

As a former hotelier, I've seen down cycles before, and I can tell you there's nothing like a string of marquee events or a big convention to draw in tourists and fill up those hotel rooms. The hospitality community in Portland is full of amazing, passionate people. I have great confidence in their ability to get us where we need to go. It's incumbent on all of us who love this region to remind the world we are open for business.

Like Expo, the Oregon Convention Center is also rolling out the welcome mat for large conference planners, many still cautiously planning their in-person gatherings for 2022 with one eye still rightly on the pandemic.

Events like Beyond Van Gogh, Crafty Wonderland and the Marine Corps Ball will bring thousands of visitors to the Lloyd District while keeping the Convention Center in use as often as possible. And national events, like the American Cheerleading Championships, will bring in thousands of visitors to our region.

The average Oregon Convention Center visitor spends $404 a day while in town. They also contribute tourism taxes that support our community gathering spaces and fund services for people experiencing homelessness –more than $2.5 million in a year with typical tourism numbers. It isn't just our restaurant workers, hospitality workers and convention support businesses that rely on the Oregon Convention Center, it's everyone in our community.

We all hope the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us. But the lessons of the pandemic —flexibility, community and, most of all, compassion — will remain, and that will lead us into a new economy and help us imagine new services. Metro venues like Expo are eager to usher in this new era of innovation to serve our community as a gathering place for the visitors and business growth for this holiday season and the next 100 years.

Steve Faulstick, a longtime Oregon tourism industry leader, is the interim general manager for Metro's visitor venues.

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