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TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - COVER: Alan Battersby of Grand Ventures LLC, relaxes in a standard room at the Hotel Eastlund which his firm just developed out of the old Red Lion on Northeast Grand Ave. When Hotel Eastlund opens on June 8, it will be another green shoot in the revival of the Lloyd District in Northeast Portland — but will it make money?


When it was built in 1962 it was a classic motor lodge, hemmed in by Grand and Union Avenues. Guests mostly arrived by car and the first floor was a parking garage. Most recently it was the not-so-rampant Red Lion, where Burgerville was most people’s room service and Red Robin was where you met friends.

In the last nine months the structure has been completely remodeled. The newly-named, four-star Hotel Eastlund is all about pedestrian access, friendly valets and what the architect calls “connectivity”. On street level on the Grand side there’s a new bakery/wine bar called Citizen Baker, and feet-friendly entrances on the north and west sides.

As a Red Lion, the carpets were rumpled and the dim corridors smelled of mold, the capitalist equivalent of something from the Soviet Bloc. Seattle-based Grand Ventures Hotel LLC bought it in 2013 from Red Lion for $13 million and put another $15 million into it. The result is a 168-room boutique hotel, with instant character and small, luxurious touches, sitting on some prime real estate.

Grand Ventures Hotel is a Portland-based subsidiary of Posh Ventures of Seattle. They also redeveloped Hotel Modera at Southwest Fifth Avenue and Clay Street, and are teaming with the Modera’s Nel Centro chef, Dave Machado, to make the rooftop bar/restaurant into a destination for locals.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Hotel Eastlund has white accents to highlight pedestrian-friendly entrances on two sides of what was called the Cosmopolitan Motor Hotel when it opened in 1962, and was most recently a run-down Red Lion. On a recent tour, workers put the finishing touches to paint and wiring, and mattresses and chairs come up in scissor lifts by the hundred. Grand Ventures’ Alan Battersby leads the way. The lobby has a glass wall printed with a classic image of a very young Brigitte Bardot by photographer Terry O’Neill. Battersby explains the image is the same on both sides of the glass.

“We used it twice because it cost a lot,” he jokes.

There are boutiquey touches. The beds have fur throws and the glassed-in showers have a hole to reach into to adjust the water. Battersby has a boyish enthusiasm for hotels. He is thrilled by carpets and cocktails and even ceiling tiles. Excitedly, he tells how guests can connect to the TVs on their rooms.

“You can access Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime, just put your password in and you won’t have to pay the hotel or LodgeNet.”

Chef and restaurant owner David Machado will attempt to elevate pub grub with his beer-centric menu at Altabira City Tavern, while Citizen Baker should add some class at street level to otherwise sketchy Grand Avenue.

Aside from the new bar with its roof terrace and city views, the banquet room has been opened up to light where it was once a windowless cavern, and some private dining rooms have also been added, for parties or corporate meetings.

“Intel, Adidas, Nike, they do a lot of work offsite, strategic planning and stuff,” Battersby says, invoking the holy trinity of firms that keep his kind of people in business. “It snowballs, it’s crazy how much.”

“A lot of our work today is about connectivity, access, easy ways to connect in, whether in the room or the business center,” says designer Rachel Brand of Holst Architecture, explaining the makeover. “People want to be able to travel and still have everything at their fingertips, to be in touch with their main office.”

Oil and water

In the hotel business in Portland there’s a tension between the big boxes and the nimbler boutiques.

“In the procurement process we ran it (as a Red Lion), it was very painful,” says Battersby. “When you’re an entrepreneur and you’re dealing with a franchise company it’s like oil and water. We move quickly, they do things very slowly, and usually wrong,” he says. “Red Lion was a really great franchise in the early days but it’s been bought and sold, bought and sold. It’s a workout. We don’t use them anymore.”

They tried temporary fixes without wasting money knowing it was going to be demoed.

“We changed the linens immediately. We cleaned it all up, shampooed everything. When a hotel goes into disrepair, gets old and tired and starts to stink, your customers come up to you and say ‘This is the last time I’m gonna be here...’” (He stresses that anyone who wanted their job back was welcome, and senior management did indeed return.)

The slogan is the slightly adventurous: “Go to where the night takes you.” The design motif was going to be Northwest writers, with lines from Kesey, Stafford, Palahniuk, et al written on the walls, but that was scaled back.

“It was too hokey,” Battersby says. “It was too strong a theme,” interjects Brand, the designer. There are still words everywhere — wordy art by Loui Jover, abstract characters on the headboards — but it’s subtler than the big nudes of the Hotel Modera. The goal is to cash in on the Portland gold rush — food, beer, wood, the east side — while friending the Oregon Convention Center’s tired, huddled masses. Hotel Eastlund’s owners want conventioneers who need to have a cocktail or carry on their meetings after hours, and they want the locals to give their stamp of approval, whether it’s for the mussels from the late Vindalho, the 13 taps of Oregon beer, or the selfie-friendly skyline.

Regional Genereal Manager Darren Hamilton, who has worked with David Machado for 20 years at South Park, The Heathman and the Heathman Lodge in Vancouver, admits, “We need locals to survive, it’s geared to locals. At Nel Centro (the restaurant at the Modera) our business is 90 percent locals.”

Convention Center boon

Hotel Eastlund looks west over the site of the LEED-certified 600-room Hyatt Regency Hotel, AKA the Convention Center Hotel, which Hyatt is slated to open in late 2018. Using any public money for such a hotel has been a sore point for decades, but according to Metro Council President Tom Hughes, the matter is settled, the hotel will be built, and it will be a good thing for Portland.

The Metro website says “Portland loses mid-sized national conventions to other cities with convention center hotels” including eight conventions in fall of 2014, “costing our economy $85 million.”

A $60 million, 30-year bond was issued to get the project started, and Metro claims that “over 32 years, the State of Oregon is expected to receive over $180 million in transient lodging and income tax revenues.” The developer Mortensen will sell it to Hyatt who will own and run it.

Metro also claims it will “create 3,000 jobs (2,000 construction and 950 hotel & hospitality).”

Hughes, who was Mayor of Hillsboro from 2001 to 2009, told the Tribune he welcomes the Eastlund. “Some see the Hyatt’s arrival as a big plus and are willing to invest money and try to take advantage of it, and we appreciate that,” he said.

“Everyone has a slightly different view of how the economy is going to play out when there’s a major disruption in the force field,” he added. “They come to dramatically different conclusions,” he says, referring to opponents of the CCH.

Saying he could barely remember the name of one of the chief opponents (Gordon Sondlund of Aspen Capital, Provenance Hotels and the Aspen Hotel Group) Hughes adds, “Thirteen elected officials had the chance to opine on this issue, and only one voted against it.” (That was City Commissioner Steve Novick.)

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - LEFT: Architect Rachel Brand of Holst Architecture stands in front of some of the original brickwork, one of the few period details saved from the original structure. To appeal to boutiquey types, orange is the accent color and letters are the leitmotif.Hughes says when he joined Metro in 2011 he was told the problems thus far had been political rather than financial. He set out to “find a place where everyone feels comfortable, where the private sector understand how they will get their return on investment and the public sector will see how much public value the project has.”

He says such public private partnerships, involving multiple stakeholders, are “an art form.” Another factor in getting the deal done: “Some of the other political opponents have gone on to other jobs, the cast of characters has changed.”

Battersby is a ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ kind of capitalist as well.

“I’ve being doing this for 40 years, I worked for big companies, and I discovered in major cities that had convention hotels, we used to worry when a new hotel came in. But then you had that many more people selling the city, you got more conventions.”

He saw it at the Royal Orleans in New Orleans in the 1970s, when a 1,200 room Marriott opened nearby. “We were shocked, but our occupancy went up and our rate went up.” A few years later a 2,000 room Hilton came in. “What happened? Our occupancy went up and our rate went up.”

Battersby adds, “Portland is in its infancy. Until we see these hotels, you’re not going to see the Convention Center be profitable.”

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RENDERING COURTESY HOLST ARCHITECTURE. - A rendering of Hotel Eastlund, with the new bakery visible right.

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