A Planner’s Look at Portland

Portland Pearl District
Portland Pearl District

Sustainability in Portland is a way of life with a small town vibe belying its cosmopolitan amenities, complemented with a youthful, earthy vigor common in the Pacific Northwest. There are more LEED buildings per capita than any other U.S. city. You can walk the entire compact downtown core bordered by bike trails up and down leafy Tom McCall Waterfront Park skirting the placid Willamette River. And the most common modes of transportation are the Max Light Rail system, bicycles, riverboats and hybrids.

I was here to attend the annual GMIC Sustainable Meetings Conference in February for an exciting mix of collaborative networking, education, continuous online/offline communication and gourmet local food. Upon arrival at the airport, I simply hopped aboard the clean, comfy and convenient Max for the 35-minute ride that stops at most of the major hotels, convention center and Rose Garden Arena. Total cost: $2.35.

Across the Willamette River from downtown, the 477-room Doubletree Hotel Portland was the association’s Conference HQ this year. The choice was due to the property winning both the first Green Seal Certification in Oregon and the IMEX Green Supplier Gold Award 2011. And the dark browns and creamsicle colors in the lobby with modern retro sofas and chairs added a fun atmosphere complementing the 1950s architecture.

Morning, noon and night, guests were always sitting around reading, chatting, sipping coffee and tea with iPods, iPads and laptops in the free internet zone. Adding to the social buzz, the new Gather restaurant off the lobby served susty small plates and complete entrees. Partnering with local farmers, ranchers and fishermen, exec chef Steven Ward is one of many Portland chefs who “FLOSS” at every meal, meaning the use of Fresh, Local, Organic, Seasonal and Sustainable ingredients, always.

Part of the 38,000 sf of meeting space divisible into 18 rooms, the 17,000-sf exhibit hall is super convenient with pre-function space outside each room. The staff is dedicated and friendly, guided by one of our sustainable industry gurus, Steve Faulstick, who makes planning sustainable meetings at the Doubletree both a pleasure and a breeze.

Including sustainable practices throughout a conference is where Doubletree really shines. ENERGY STAR certified, it is rigorously committed to composting and waste diversion to lead the hospitality industry in being sustainable and responsible. The employees and guests, myself included, and the community benefit from this stellar example of corporate responsibility.

Guestrooms are simply decorated in earth tones. Some of the newly renovated (2010) rooms have spectacular views of the city and beyond, including Mt. Hood’s snowcapped peak and the majestic evergreen landscape beyond the city.

Also, the Doubletree is the largest hotel within walking distance to the convention center. Very convenient!

During one afternoon break, I had the pleasure of greeting the B-Line bicycle cart driver as he delivered fresh coffee beans from Portland Roasting Coffee, before picking up food donations to be shared with less fortunate Portlanders. Feeding people and saving fuel is part of B-Line Sustainable Urban Delivery’s mission to make communities more livable. Check ’em out.

Portland Andina Restaurant
Portland Andina Restaurant

“Game On!” was our interactive learning competition where participation is key. By attending sessions, visiting exhibitors, participating in build-a-bike, tweeting, blogging, calculating personal travel impact and completing the intensive case study, our colleagues earned team points. The Game On! iPad application was the platform for keeping score.

Once again, Elizabeth Henderson, M.E.Des, took the lead along with Katherine Manfredi, CMM, this year’s co-chair. The Games provide copious feedback from attendees generated by the new concept. And the virtual aspect and collaboration will be part of future conferences with new twists and turns incorporating networking, knowledge exchange and fun as key elements.

“We took risks to showcase attendee engagement,” said Tamara Kennedy-Hill, GMIC executive director, “and the trend will continue next April at the GMIC Conference in Montreal.”

In the company of Jeff Miller, president/CEO of Travel Portland, we dined in “The Pearl Wine Shop” private dining room seating 20 at Andina. It’s an authentic Peruvian restaurant located in the eclectic Pearl District, one of Portland’s hippest places to shop, live and dine. Our plates for tasting and sharing were custom designed for our group of 12, as they do for all parties.

“Something people always appreciate is that we offer the same quality of service and food no matter what the size of the group is,” says Jennifer Anderson, special events director. “Our pre-set menus feature the same dishes we serve daily downstairs, so we won’t hassle groups with menu options that are completely different to the dishes we’re used to serving.”

The cuisine combines traditional Peruvian and Northwest regional cuisine resulting in a culinary marvel. Try the grilled diver scallops with a soy/brown sugar butter sauce, classic Peruvian cookies, handmade truffles and Pinot Noir/Pinot Gris from the nearby Willamette Valley Wine Country. Andina has three more private dining rooms seating 20, 50 and 65.

With ingredients sourced from the local Meriwether’s Skyline Farm, chefs at Meriwether’s Restaurant raise farm-to-fork dining to a new level. It started with a small city garden, and today over 8,000 pounds of farm fresh produce is delivered to the restaurant annually. Wine from the nearby vineyards, mushroom risotto, fresh asparagus, herbs from the patio herb garden and locally brewed beer were served. I was told the craft beer here is so tasty because the city doesn’t chlorinate the water!

“Phenomenal, fantastic family style spread, did I say it was phenomenal?” gushed Danielle Faris-Gaines, Denver-based event manager for the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. “The best part of the evening was when the owner came over to talk to our group. It felt like you were sitting down at his family table.” Max capacity is 300.

Junk to Funk Trashion Collective
Junk to Funk Trashion Collective

The Epicurean Excursion is a fun walking tour rain or shine through the tree-lined streets. Stop by the local favorite Flying Elephant for orgasmic tomato orange soup. Vegan is the specialty at Park Kitchen, serving chick pea fries with butternut squash ketchup. And the Eco Trust Building is an 1895 warehouse converted into commercial space, which was the first historic building in the U.S. to receive LEED Gold certification. Pop into Hot Lips Pizza on the first level for a delicious slice of homemade pizza.

This I love. The Junk to Funk Trashion Collective is a group of local designers who collect trash such as plastic,  newspaper, baseball caps, coffee filters and those purple Crown Royal sacs. With a little thread and a lot of imagination, they turn all this “junk” into gorgeous gowns, sexy sundresses and more.

The Collective put on a fabulously funky fashion show for us as we dined on savory cheese and sipped local wine at the LEED-EB Silver Oregon Convention Center. We couldn’t stop gasping, laughing and whistling at the models on the runway.

“It’s more than a fashion show,” says Lindsey Newkirk, chief instigator for Junk to Funk. “It’s a statement about our stuff and where it goes after we’re done with it.”

From the convention center, it was easy to board the Max over the Willamette River into the heart of downtown and the 782-room Hilton Portland & Executive Tower. Offering 66,000 flexible sf of conference space, it is the largest Green Seal-certified hotel on the West Coast. It’s bright, airy, clean and green with a relaxed corporate sensibility that’s as welcoming as it is professional. The expansive Plaza Foyer in the main building, with plenty of daylight shining in through the overhead skylights, is fab space for registration, breaks and small exhibits.

Doug Brecht, director of sales/marketing was our host at Hilton’s Bistro 921. The Yamhill mushroom frittata with a local wild mushroom mélange, fresh herbs, roasted red peppers and asiago cheese was the crowd favorite. There’s also a vegan version that will knock your socks off, as will an almandine cup filled with fresh strawberries from California.

“The Hilton has a phenomenal sustainability team that pulls from different managerial departments, which helps to ensure from operations to dining to housekeeping, that everyone feels empowered to make a difference,” observed Faris-Gaines. “The team then calculates offset numbers, which is key to successful review and further implementation on a larger scale. They even have a loading dock dedicated to waste stream diversion.”

Lounging on a 1920s-style chaise in the “living room” of the Hotel Monaco Portland with its 30’ ceilings, scarlet red walls and silver lamé paper overlain by white wooden stencil, I’m beginning to feel at home in Portland. The cream pagoda growing out of the fireplace mantle lends an Asian flair, and a woman and her young daughter arrive for organic coffee and hot chocolate in Kimpton Hotel’s zebra print robes.

The 221-room, Green Seal Silver-certified hotel offers over 8,000 sf of meeting space in five rooms. The largest accommodates 200, reception style. Artwork throughout the hotel adds to the ambience for planners looking for that unique boutique property to host creative, brainstorming sessions with out-of-the-ordinary comfort. Fun staff, too.

Lastly, if you can extend for a few days, visit Wine Country and some of the nearby wineries on board with the “Carbon Neutral Challenge.” It’s an effort by Oregon wineries and vineyards to measure, track and reduce their environmental impact.