The convention center, which dates to 1990, and its next door neighbor, the Moda Center, form a powerful one-two punch that makes Portland a great place to meet and live. Just last month the convention center hosted a wide variety of events, from Wizard World–Portland Comic Con to the 29th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast. The 10th annual Portland Seafood & Wine Festival on Jan. 30–31 drew thousands who sipped wine from more than 50 Oregon wineries and indulged in Dungeness crab dishes.
Over at the Moda Center, the NBA Portland Trail Blazers continue to swat away opponents to remain in playoff contention. The Professional Bull Riders BlueDEF Velocity Tour comes to town on Feb. 28.
The Oregon Convention Center (OCC) definitely plays a key role in luring creative hipsters to Portland. Most people visit Oregon’s most populous city before moving there, and initial exposure often comes from attending an event at the OCC or Moda Center.
The convention center is among seven reasons to meet in Portland. Read on to learn more about this capital of cool.
Oregon Convention Center
The LEED Platinum-certified OCC has not only impacted Portland’s growth, but also has helped set the tone for its general coolness thanks to its artwork, sustainability and landmark twin glass spires.
“Portland is a great city,” says Scott Cruickshank, executive director of the OCC. “Our clients tell us they love the unique atmosphere, friendly people, diverse culture, wonderful food and beverage products, and a shared concern for the environment.”
The largest convention center in the Pacific Northwest, OCC annually hosts 650 events a year. It offers 255,000 sq. ft. of contiguous exhibition space and features a 35,000-square-foot ballroom. Across the street from the main lobby is an outdoor plaza that is perfect for booth setups and receptions.
Located on the Willamette River, the OCC is adorned with more than two dozen works of art, including the world’s largest Foucault pendulum. Produced mainly by Pacific Northwest artists, the collection is valued at more than $2 million and is renowned for being one of the most varied convention center art programs in the United States. Since 1975, the Oregon Percent for Art legislation requires that 1 percent of the cost of construction projects be earmarked for artwork.
“Portland as a destination attracts many national and international attendees, often setting record numbers for attendance at association shows,” says Matt Pizzuti, deputy director of the OCC. “The mystique of the Northwest and the ease of working and hosting an event make it a win-win for attendees and planners alike.”
There’s so much public art in Portland that the Regional Arts & Culture Council has a brochure and app to help guide visitors on walking tours. The city’s central districts feature more than 100 pieces of artwork on corners, within city parks and inside public buildings.
Among the statues, installations, murals and abstract representations is Portlandia, a sculpture located above the entrance of the Portland Building downtown. Also the name of an offbeat comedy television series with a cult-like following, Portlandia is the second-largest copper repousse statue in the United States, after the Statue of Liberty.
Of course, there’s traditional artwork such as the 18-foot bronze equestrian statue of Theodore Roosevelt that is mounted on a 14-foot-tall granite base. This piece was unveiled in 1922 and still ranks as a key structure among the city’s downtown park artwork.
On the fringe side of things, the Zoobomb Pyle sculpture of mini bikes toasts Portland’s bike culture and also functions as a bike rack.
The city’s love affair with art is comprehensively celebrated by the Portland Art Museum, which was founded in 1892. It’s the oldest art museum in the Pacific Northwest and seventh oldest in the United States.
With 112,000 sq. ft. of gallery space, the museum displays 42,000 objects, including ancient art, works by North American native people and graphic arts. Besides its highly regarded permanent collection, the museum draws international exhibits such as Richard Mosse’s video installation, The Enclave, which runs through April 12. Mosse uses recently discontinued military film technology to document the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Museum of Contemporary Craft, founded in 1937, honors the city’s longtime craft tradition. From funky furniture to handmade pots, bowls and jewelry, this museum is small but exudes a Portland vibe that balances functionality and art.
Another favorite is the Oregon Historical Society Museum, which features 85,000 pieces. The Oregon My Oregon exhibit explores the state’s earliest inhabitants through its Oregon Trail period, early settlements and industry.
According to Michael Claypool, founder and winemaker of Clay Pigeon Winery, Portland’s urban wineries are a byproduct of the city’s strong tradition of makers.
“As a maker, I want to be closer to my community—not just winemakers, but others that inspire me,” Claypool says. “So being able to be in a dense urban environment allows everyone to feed off the energy. Selfishly, we want to still live in the city and keep our community, and our customers are those who are excited about that, rather than needing us to be in wine country.”
Clay Pigeon is among the 14 association members of PDX Urban Wineries. Several of the wineries offer meeting space in their barrel rooms and others offer shabby chic bars that are perfect for intimate events. Hip Chicks do Wine built moveable walls out of pallets, so it can stage semi-private events in the main winery space while keeping its tasting room open.
Seven Bridges Winery has space for up to 100 for receptions and can seat 48. Jim Straus of Seven Bridges says great wine and great wine conversation are perfect for networking.
“The Portland and Seattle urban wine scenes are growing fast,” Straus says. “We have easy access to a wide variety of outstanding hot and cool weather grapes within a four-hour drive, which is a significant advantage for the urban winery.”
You can’t come to Portland without grabbing a bite from a food cart. It’s estimated that the city boasts 500 food carts, which have been constructed from trailers, buses, trucks and vans, and are grouped in pods, taking over parking lots, abandoned lots and street corners. Food carts are such a Portland phenomenon that there’s even an app to keep up with them all.
The Big Egg, located in the Mississippi Historic District, serves up breakfast wraps with eggs that are produced by cage-free chickens. Meats are hormone- and antibiotic-free, and breads and coffee are sourced from local bakers and roasters, respectively. Not only is The Big Egg popular with locals, but it also gained national prominence when it was featured on the Food Network.
“We really embrace the whole culinary thing,” says Jeff Miller, president and CEO of Travel Portland. “It’s a great city for start-ups. We love small business. There’s always been an entrepreneurial spirit. People feel ‘I can start something here.’”
For groups with a variety of tastes, food carts are a great way to diversify culinary offerings since pods may include a dozen or more vendors. Some pods even feature heated, tented seating so attendees can dine together after they’ve decided between Korean barbecue or Mediterranean fare.
There’s no sales tax in Oregon, which saves event organizers and attendees money. This means the cost listed on the price tag is what you pay.
“In Portland, you’ll find everything you expect from big-city shopping—except the sales tax,” reads the Travel Portland website. “Whether you’re in the market for a big purchase from a major brand or a handcrafted souvenir, Portland has it—with zero tax.”
“You’re automatically going to save money,” Miller says.
As millennials supersede baby boomers in the workforce as early as this year, meeting planners are being called on to come up with new destinations and spaces for events that attract those born between 1980 and 2000. Portland certainly fits the bill.
Besides a thriving bike culture, food carts, urban wineries and art, Portland is blessed with amazing outdoor adventure opportunities, including hiking and kayaking. And it’s only 35 minutes from the Columbia River Gorge and wine country.
“If a convention is looking for something a little different, we’ve got it,” Miller says.
Oregon Truffle Festival
It’s no longer a secret. Oregon is considered a world-class truffle region, rivaling regions in Italy and France. Celebrating the state’s global reputation` the 10th annual Oregon Truffle Festival took place last month in Eugene and Portland on back-to-back weekends.
Oregon’s truffle prominence took off in 2013, when the famous black truffle of Southern Europe (aka Perigord truffle) was harvested in an orchard of inoculated hazelnut trees. Two other orchards started production last year. Oregon has an ideal landscape for growing truffles and that has turned into an estimated $200 million annual cash crop for the state.
“We dubbed this 10th Oregon Truffle Festival ‘Better Together’ because it signifies the convergence of culinary fervor, burgeoning agricultural opportunities and the expansion of the festival into multiple regions of Oregon,” says Charles Lefevre, festival organizer, mycologist and founder of New World Truffieres. “Whether you are a lover of truffles and truffle-infused foods, or someone who is looking to capitalize on Oregon’s abundant truffle-growing potential, we have a program that speaks to you.”
During the Oregon Truffle Festival, the first festival of its kind in North America, participants not only get to sample this culinary delicacy, but also can participate in events, such as seminars, cooking classes and hunts with dogs. A key stop is the Oregon Truffle Marketplace, held this year at the Hilton Eugene, where groups can see, smell and taste truffles and the many ways they are used.
Renovated Meeting Space at University of Oregon
Long a noted gathering place in the state, the Erb Memorial Union (EMU) at the University of Oregon in Eugene is undergoing a massive $95 million renovation set for completion in summer 2016.
The project includes the development of a new 3,900-square-foot multifunctional auditorium that can hold up to 250. The ballroom area can accommodate up to 976. The university campus offers more than 200,000 sq. ft. of meeting and event space and has its own conference services department.
EMU is seeking LEED Gold certification. Building materials are being recycled or reused whenever possible. Energy reduction strategies are in place throughout the building, including analyzing energy use to increase efficiency and targeting key systems to reduce the energy load.
Major Meeting Venues
Resort sits on 1,800 acres just east of Bend; eight suites and 60 cabins exude rustic elegance; two restaurants; 18-hole golf course; event space includes The Barn, which can seat 140, a boardroom, an equestrian center and a poolside deck.
Mount Bachelor Village Resort
New 5,400-square-foot conference center is well-suited for groups of up to 150; variety of lodging, including 130 condominiums and suites; 2.2-mile trail for walking, running and cross-country skiing (in the winter); bike rentals; tennis courts.
A member of the Auberge Resorts Collection; $20 million project underway, including a new 105-room lodge, will be completed late this year; the new hotel will be named The Lodge at Pronghorn; golf courses designed by Jack Nicklaus and Tom Fazio; golf course island offers 7,000 sq. ft.
World-class resort 15 miles south of Bend in Sunriver; four golf courses; tennis courts; kayak and canoe rentals; observatory and nature center; more than 45,000 sq. ft. of meeting and banquet space; 245 guest rooms.
The Riverhouse Hotel & Convention Center
The most meeting space east of the Cascade Mountains; 36,000 sq. ft., including a 16,000-square-foot ballroom; 220 guest rooms and suites feature river views, kitchens and fireplaces; restaurant and deck overlook Deschutes River; River’s Edge Golf Course is adjacent to the hotel; rafting and shopping nearby.
Eugene, Cascades & Coast
Candlewood Suites Eugene & Springfield Hotel
Lane County’s newest hotel opened in September; all 87 guest rooms have kitchens; free laundry; health club; across from Willamette River walk/bike path; minutes from University of Oregon and downtown Eugene.
Adjacent to Hult Center for Performing Arts; 269 guest rooms; more than 30,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; can accommodate up to 1,800; major renovation completed in 2013.
Holiday Inn Eugene–Springfield
Meeting space for up to 740; 153 guest rooms; restaurant; business center; indoor heated pool; convenient location near I-5, University of Oregon and downtown Eugene.
Hyatt Place at Oakway Center
New 124-room Eugene hotel is under construction and will open June 2016; property will feature meeting space, swimming pool, exercise facility and bar.
Three Rivers Casino & Hotel
Located in Florence, an hour west of Eugene on the coast; five restaurants; casino; live entertainment; 93 oversize rooms and three suites; Event Center can accommodate up to 700 people.
Village Green Resort
Located 25 miles south of Eugene in Cottage Grove, known as the Covered Bridge Capital of the West; 84 guest rooms; 5,000 sq. ft. of indoor meeting space; outdoor event space includes stunning gardens; restaurant; lounge; pool.
Valley River Inn
Located on Willamette River in Eugene; 257 guest rooms; private balconies and patios; 15,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; near 12 miles of paved trails for walking, running and biking.
DoubleTree by Hilton Portland
Key hotel near Oregon Convention Center and Moda Center; 477 guest rooms; 45,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; exhibit hall offers 17,239 sq. ft.; proximity to the MAX Light Rail makes traveling throughout city easy.
Hilton Portland & Executive Tower
Largest convention hotel in the state; short light-rail ride from Oregon Convention Center; indoor lap pool; 24-hour fitness center; 782 guest rooms; 12,657-square-foot ballroom.
Great downtown location near Pearl District, Powell’s Books, Pioneer Square and Willamette riverfront; AAA Four Diamond-rated; 8,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; room for up to 200 for receptions; 221 guest rooms.
Campus includes the 20,000-seat Moda Center, where the NBA Portland Trail Blazers play; Veterans Memorial Coliseum features 12,000-seat arena and 40,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space.
The Allison Inn & Spa
Only a 45-minute drive from Portland in Newberg; LEED Gold-certified; 85 guest rooms and suites; meeting space for up to 250; Jory restaurant features an 800-label wine list and more than 40 wines available by the glass.
The Benson Hotel
Downtown hotel offers 12 meeting rooms with 18,000 sq. ft. of space; largest room is 5,850 sq. ft.; 287 guest rooms; founded in 1913.
Located atop the landmark Meier & Frank Building in downtown; contemporary art collection decorates public spaces and 331 guest rooms; 13,439 sq. ft. of meeting space; business center; fitness center.