Jay’s Way

Jay’s Way

Jay’s Way

Charismatic civic leader and entrepreneur Roy Jay makes it his mission to promote Portland

By Jennifer Anderson | The Portland Tribune, Nov 15, 2005

 They can’t help but notice his flashy style, his unapologetic flair for making things less mundane.

And those who know Jay can’t help but admire his leadership in the community, even though they don’t know the half of what he does.

Jay, a 58-year-old North Portland native, is arguably one of the most accomplished civic and business leaders in Portland , even though you may never have heard of him.

His history over the past four decades is wide-ranging, to say the least.

He’s been a disc jockey. A concert promoter. An ambassador to Portland for minority business travelers across the country. A salesman of credit card machines and limousine rentals, and owner of a barter company to help small businesses pay for goods and services.


The list goes on. One of his companies provides the food service for the Oregon Convention Center, Portland Expo Center and the Portland Center for Performing Arts. An enterprise he started manages the downtown parking garages. The African American Chamber of Commerce, which he leads, runs various events for seniors and kids in the community.

This year, he created a program called Project Clean Slate, which he says he is most proud of. ‘All the rest of the Roy Jay stuff, forget about that,’ he says. ‘I’m just high on this Clean Slate stuff.’

Through partnerships Jay forged between the Multnomah County district attorney’s office, the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles and other agencies, the program allows people to erase minor criminal convictions from their records without paying the fines, in exchange for community service.


With the start of Project Clean Slate this year, Jay has been running ragged. He puts in 18-hour days, six days a week, and works Mondays from home.

Jay knows he needs to slow down. ‘It’s been a whirlwind year,’ he says. ‘My circles have circles,’ he jokes, pointing to the puffs around his eyes.

Yet Jay isn’t shying away from controversy. He is one of the biggest cheerleaders for a headquarters hotel next to the Oregon Convention Center, claiming Portland needs it to attract large conventions – even if it requires millions of public dollars to build.

The Portland Development Commission currently is negotiating with major Lloyd District developer Ashforth Pacific to build a 400-room, 23-story Westin Hotel on two blocks next to the center. The PDC originally planned to invest $15 million in the project, including the land and an additional $5 million in urban renewal funds. But Mayor Tom Potter has questioned whether the investment would pay off and directed the PDC to do more analysis and report back to the council by February next year.

Jay has no such doubts, however. As president and chief executive officer of the Oregon Convention and Visitor’s Service Network, he travels with other organizations constantly to attract business groups, particularly minority ones, to Portland. Based on his experiences, Jay says the city is losing conventions because it does not have a large hotel next to the center.

‘We need to invest in a headquarters hotel and should’ve done it before we pulled out $37 million for PGE Park,’ he said. ‘That was a political decision, and everybody knows it.’

It seems that nearly everyone who knows Jay loves him.

‘There’s nobody like Roy Jay,’ says former Mayor Vera Katz, who worked with him to promote the city of Portland as a visitors’ destination over the years. ‘He’s one of a kind. He’s persistent, dynamic, and passionate. He’s got a story for everything.’

LaRog Jewelers owner David Rogoway agrees.

‘Roy Jay is Portland’s most charismatic character,’ said Rogoway, who first met Jay in the 1970s, when they both worked in radio. ‘He’s like an encyclopedia of resources.’

It’s hard to miss Jay. He is always meticulously dressed in designer suits, drives a shiny white Toyota Prius and carries a black leather briefcase with visitor’s brochures, business documents and notepads spilling out.

Talking with Jay is like talking with an old friend who can’t help sharing his favorite, most poignant and funny stories. Take the time he went to Nassau, Bahamas, to bid for a convention and saw his competitors lounging at the pool at the Marriott Hotel. Jay slyly left his company’s American Express card at the hotel bar for their use, delivered his presentation to the American Black Chiropractors Association upstairs, won the conference and returned an hour and a half later to find his competitors still there, with $283 on his bar tab.

‘I neutralized the competition,’ he says simply.

Jay’s personal brand of promoting Portland seems to be working. Between 2000 and 2005, Jay brought a total of 79 conventions to the city, most of them minority business groups, according to the Portland Oregon Visitors Association.

Perhaps the only public criticism of Jay stems from an internal dispute within the Portland chapter of the NAACP in 2000. Jay, who was president of the organization, resigned along with four other board members when the problems erupted. According to Robert Larry, a Northeast Portland activist who succeeded Jay as president, ‘Roy never understood the NAACP constitution and bylaws and he is not willing to work within the organization. That is true with most authoritarian-style business folks.

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