Only four current NBA franchises have never hosted an NBA All-Star Game: the Sacramento Kings, Memphis Grizzlies, Oklahoma City Thunder and our own Portland Trail Blazers. And it’s not for a lack of trying.
The Blazers have shown interest in bringing the NBA’s showcase event to the Rose City, submitting a bid to host either the 2017 or 2018 games. However, the games were awarded to New Orleans, after Charlotte had their hosting rights revoked by the league, and Los Angeles, respectively.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver pointed to Portland’s lack of hotel space as a prime obstacle holding the city back:
"One of the issues historically with respect to Portland is frankly the number of hotel rooms," Silver said. "Like I said we have 1,800 credentialed members of the media (in New York this year) alone who need hotel rooms now. Thousands of guests who come to town as well."
This makes sense. The city has an excellent arena, with more than $20 million invested in improvements over the last three years. It has solid mass-transit infrastructure. There is no shortage of great places to eat. But there are logistical challenges in fitting enough people in the city for a multi-night stay.
The good news is that challenge may be ending. Spurred by low interest rates and high occupancy levels, local developers have been building hotels like crazy in the city, with an expected available room increase of 40 percent by 2020. More than 3,000 rooms are in development, headed by last month’s ground breaking of the 600 room future Hyatt Regency Portland at the Oregon Convention Center, expected to be completed by late 2019.
There is also a trend toward quality boutique hotels, including Hilton Worldwide's 153-room Canopy hotel at 425 N.W. Ninth Ave. and Marriott's 204-room AC Hotel at the corner of Southwest Third Avenue and Taylor Street. There is another Hilton brand hotel — the 299-room Porter Hotel, part of the company's Curio Collection — being built downtown along Southwest Second Avenue between Columbia and Jefferson streets.
3,000 rooms, including 600 right next to the arena, should go a long way toward alleviating the league’s fears about the city’s ability to host all of the out-of-towners. While the hotel is a year behind schedule, Portland already has no shot to host through 2019. But the time for Portland to be seriously considered for an upcoming All-Star game is now.
Though a smaller event, the city did well hosting the 2014 MLS All-Star game. The event was a success, tourism dollars flowed in, and everyone left happy, except for maybe Pep Guardiola. The city will be ready for a higher-profile event by the time the NBA hands out the next All-Star Game.
And the fans will be ready too. Blazermaniacs, who have loyally been following the team since 1970, have waited longer than anyone for an All-Star Game. The Kings? 1985. The Grizzlies? 1996. The Thunder? Only since 2009.
Portland has had a lot of growing pains over the last 10 years. The city has had to figure out how to move from being a quirky “big small city” to the 23rd largest market in the country, one with a thriving tech industry and one of the most highly-rated “livability” scores in the nation. While there are a lot of issues with managing such drastic growth, one of the boons is being able to participate in high-profile events such as these.
Since Blazers President and CEO Chris McGowan has been with the team, he seems to have made it a point to get the city in the mix each year. There is no word on whether the team has put in a bid for the 2020 or 2021 games at this point (they are rumored to have expressed interest), but hopefully it’s not too late. Rumored leaders include the Kings and Pistons, both playing their games in new arenas this season. There is also word that Cleveland has been promised one of the two games if they are able to figure out how to begin work on an arena upgrade by September 15.
Portland is consistently recognized as one of the best NBA cities in the league. With the city booming, quality mass-transit infrastructure, a renowned restaurant scene, and the hotel problem soon to be at an end, the NBA is running out of reasons to deny Portland a shot at hosting its first All-Star Weekend. Hopefully the team is able to put together a compelling bid in the near future and get the city what it deserves.