Portland Tries Creativity, New Places

Tourist industry hopes to attract more leisure travelers in tough times

By: Marty Wentzel

PORTLAND, Oregon Creative marketing and new attractions are keeping Portland’s tourism scene vibrant.

A recent report by the research firm of Dean Runyan Associates stated that 2002 visitor spending in the Portland area reached $2.43 billion, 1.8 percent more than in 2001.

“The poor economy has caused dramatic cutbacks in business-travel spending throughout the United States,” said Joe D’Alessandro, Portland Oregon Visitors Association president. “POVA and its partners have had to scramble for additional leisure travelers and convention bookings to help fill the corporate gap.”

Through promotions like the Big Deal campaign, which offers discounted hotel rates and other specials during Portland’s off-season, more leisure travelers are choosing Portland as a vacation destination, said D’Alessandro. From October to December 2002, bargain hunters booked 5,400 hotel room nights, a 25 percent jump over the same period in 2001.

Here’s a look at what’s new in the City of Roses:

c In April 2003, the 500,000-square-foot Oregon Convention Center unveiled a 407,500-square-foot expansion, making it the largest convention facility in the Pacific Northwest. The $116-million project allows the center to host two midsize conventions simultaneously. The center now boasts 255,000 square feet of exhibit space and a new 34,400-square-foot ballroom. 503-235-7575; www. oregoncc.org.

c In September 2004, the Metropolitan Area Express (MAX) light-rail system will open a 5.8-mile spur linking the Portland Metropolitan Exposition Center with the downtown hotel core and Oregon Convention Center/ Rose Quarter area. The $350-million project completes the plan to link all of Portland’s major convention facilities via light rail. For visitors at Portland’s airport, the MAX Red Line departs every 15 minutes. The 38-minute trip downtown costs $1.55 per adult. 503-238-7433; www.tri met. org.

c On the new Lewis & Clark Explorer Train, offered by the Oregon Department of Transportation, visitors can trace the historic path of the Corps of Discovery from Portland to Astoria, the oldest American settlement west of the Rockies. Trains leave at 7:30 a.m., hugging the banks of the Columbia River and passing sites visited by the famous explorers. Clients have five hours to explore Astoria before boarding the return train to Portland at 4:30 p.m. Through Sept. 2, 2003, trains run Friday to Monday, with one Tuesday departure on Sept. 2. The summer service runs through 2005. Tickets are available by calling Amtrak. 800-872-7245; www. amtrak.com.

c Oregon Zoo’s Deep Sea thrill ride debuted May 16. Seated in a simulation theater, visitors feel like they’re riding under water in a submersible, as they follow a giant squid and sperm whale. Computer-controlled hydraulics move the audience in sync with the action on the screen, and high-tech video and audio systems add to the drama. Deep Sea costs $4 per person in addition to the regular zoo admission. 503-226-1561; www.oregonzoo.org.

 The Forest Discovery Center (formerly World Forestry Center) is installing new interactive exhibits aimed at youngsters.

For instance, construction begins this summer on a pavilion for a renovated century-old working carousel with 56 hand-carved animals. Set in Washington Park, the center is adjacent to several other family-oriented attractions, including the zoo and the Children’s Museum. 503-228-1367; www.world forestry.org.

c Oregon Museum of Science and Industry has retrofitted its Omnimax Theater to show feature-length films on its five-story screen. Previously, the theater was limited to running movies of one hour or less, but now clients can enjoy feature-length film with digital sound. The facility is one of only 80 such theaters worldwide. 503-797-4537; www.omsi.edu.

c Portland’s new Eastback Esplanade has a 1.5-mile pedestrian/cycling trail that extends along the east side of downtown’s Willamette River. Highlights of the $40-million project include a 1,200-foot floating walkway that sits atop the river, an adjoining 120-foot public boat dock, public art and the new Steel Bridge pedestrian/bicycle river crossing at riverbank level. The esplanade is part of a long-term plan to enhance the east bank. Future development will provide a boathouse, scenic overlooks and a park. 503-823-2223; www.parks.ci.portland.or.us.