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Baker On Board With BCEC Expansion If Hynes Convention Center Sale Is Part Of Plan

Boston

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker is ready to expand the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, but only at the expense of Boston's other convention center.

Baker On Board With BCEC Expansion If Hynes Convention Center Sale Is Part Of Plan
The Boston Convention and Exhibition Center

More than four years after hitting the brakes on a $1B plan to expand the BCEC in the Seaport, the Massachusetts governor has revived expansion plans in a scaled-down manner. The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority’s executive committee Monday approved Baker’s plan, which would add about 500K SF to the 2.1M SF facility. The plan Baker canceled in 2015 would have added about 1.3M SF to the BCEC. 

The full MCCA board will vote Thursday on Baker’s proposal, which calls for partially funding the expansion by selling the state-owned Hynes Convention Center in Back Bay. The Hynes, which opened in 1963 and was renovated in 1988, needs about $200M over the next 10 years to maintain its current operating state, according to state officials. 

Baker canceled the previous BCEC expansion plan due to concerns that too much debt was needed to build and operate both facilities. 

“Quite frankly, I’m all for an expansion for the BCEC,” Massachusetts Lodging Association President and MCCA board member Paul Sacco said. “I know the Hynes has been running at a deficit for years and is in constant need of capital funding. You have to look at it strategically with what’s the best situation at this point.”

The BCEC, which opened in 2004, outperforms national occupancy figures for major market convention centers, according to Baker’s office. But hoteliers and the regional convention center authority have promoted BCEC expansion to enable overlapping conventions and reduce the number of down nights at area hotels between events. 

The expansion calls for just over 200K SF of "sellable," or convention-related, space: a 100K SF exhibit hall, a 61K SF ballroom and 44K SF of smaller meeting rooms. Baker’s expansion legislation also includes a provision to transfer a 12-acre piece of land behind the BCEC not needed for expansion back to the city of Boston.

While the proposal would actually lead to an overall 8% reduction in the city’s total convention space, a bigger BCEC would be able to have events overlap. 

“Boston is a popular convention destination, and there has been market demand for larger, more flexible event space in recent years. This expansion will meet demand, unlock greater economic potential, and support the creation of new jobs,” Baker said in a prepared statement. “Our plan will make Boston’s convention space more efficient and maximize new economic opportunities in both the Seaport and the Back Bay, benefiting the City of Boston and the Commonwealth.”

Baker On Board With BCEC Expansion If Hynes Convention Center Sale Is Part Of Plan
The Hynes Convention Center in Boston

Selling the Hynes would free up a valuable piece of land on Boylston Street connected to the Prudential Center and along Boston’s High Spine of taller buildings through the heart of Back Bay and the South End. 

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh indicated he is open to the proposal. 

“As Boston continues to serve as a regional hub for economic activity and growth, the state’s proposal presents a new opportunity to expand the Convention Center and bring a significant piece of land back to Boston, benefiting the South Boston Waterfront and city overall,” he said in a prepared statement. “I look forward to discussing this proposal with the Legislature and staying engaged through this process as it moves forward.”

There are still questions about the impact to Back Bay hotels under Baker’s proposal. The neighborhood’s Sheraton, Westin and Marriott hotels are all convention-sized and connected to the Hynes through climate-controlled passages through the Copley Place and Prudential Center malls. 

While Sacco is in favor of the BCEC expansion, he and others expressed concerned with what the impact might be to business in a Hynes-less Back Bay. 

“All those hotels are all connected to the Hynes by an interior, which I have to think they can get business in the winter they may not be able to get at the BCEC,” attorney and former Boston City Council President Larry DiCara said. 

Despite the concern for neighborhood business, DiCara also recognizes the area’s hot real estate market is hard to ignore. 

“I’m sure people will pay a lot of money for the real estate. I’m not questioning that for a moment,” he said. “The question is if it’s for the good of Back Bay.”