Behind the Scenes: The Boston Convention Center
Following Saturday’s unveiling of the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center’s Lawn on D, we checked in with executive director James Rooney to learn what's so different about the new space.
A “land-bound island” is how Jim describes the existing 1M SF BCEC, built to provide Boston with the bare bones to compete in the $280B/year US meetings industry. The new $1B, 1.3M SF convention center expansion will focus more on weaving the facility into the urban context. James is considering outdoor spaces fit-up with wireless technology, and electrical plumbing infrastructure for events that will connect the facility more closely to the emerging Seaport District. The enabling legislation recently signed into law by Governor Patrick requires the new space to be at least LEED Silver certifiable. Its technology will be designed to accommodate uses yet to be imagined.
The new $1B space will upgrade BCEC offerings with more exhibit space, a 2nd ballroom (75k SF), additional meeting rooms and there will also be three new hotels valued at close to $1B, two of which are under construction and a HQ hotel with at least 1,000 keys. The additions will allow the Mass Convention Center Authority to host multiple and larger events, boosting capacity from 25th largest in the nation to 14th. This is what meeting planners expect, says Jim who managed the construction of the original building that opened in 2004. The current project took five years to plan and get approval; the MCCA estimates it will take another five years to build.
State Rep Nick Collins (right with Mayor Walsh) and state Senator Linda Dorcena Forry sponsored the bill that paved the way for the project. Now, the task is to select a team to design and build off-site parking for 1,400 cars to replace the space being used for the new structures. Part of the site once used as a junk yard requires environmental remediation slated to start in March. Jim will bring on a new in-house project team to act as owner’s rep to work with the architects and contractors. A developer for the new HQ hotel will be chosen Q1 ’15. So far, Hilton, Starwood, Omni, Marriott, Hyatt, and MGM have responded to the RFQ, Jim says.
The Lawn on D, filled with ice cream, games, art and home grown entertainment (your Boston reporter’s nearly 6-year-old twins gave it their approval) will add to the animated new face of the Seaport. In Jim’s 10 years managing the BCEC, it’s been surprising to watch the District become much livelier. In ’04, there were fewer than 10 restaurants and half of those were sandwich shops, he says. Now, the neighborhood boasts 62 eateries, some run by celebrity chefs like Barbara Lynch. Of course, millions of square feet of residences, offices, hotels, and retail are under construction or recently completed. The Seaport is moving from dream to reality, Jim says, and it’s still not fully awake yet.