The Baker-Polito Administration today announced plans to pursue an expansion of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center (BCEC) in South Boston, with the goal of consolidating the city’s major convention business in one dynamic location to ensure that Boston continues to be a major global event destination. The plan calls for the sale of the Hynes Convention Center in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, which will open up a valuable parcel for redevelopment in the heart of the city and is part of a responsible financing plan for the BCEC expansion.
The Administration plans to file legislation authorizing the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority (MCCA) to sell the Hynes property, with the proceeds of the sale set aside for the BCEC expansion project. The legislation will further authorize the MCCA to undertake the BCEC expansion, which is consistent with its master plan.
Governor Charlie Baker said, “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. 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.”
Lt. Governor Karyn Polito said,“This proposal will enable the BCEC to meet the changing demand for meeting and convention space in Boston without imposing an excessive burden on taxpayers, while at the same time making room for the creative transformation of a large and important section of the Back Bay neighborhood.”
Mayor Martin J. Walsh said, “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. I look forward to discussing this proposal with the Legislature and staying engaged through this process as it moves forward.”
The BCEC opened in 2004 and outperforms national occupancy figures for major market facilities. The plan for BCEC expansion has been optimized to serve the needs of the convention and tourism markets as they have evolved since the completion of the BCEC in 2004. The expanded BCEC, with greater variety of available spaces, will be positioned to capture greater market share for large multi-day conventions and shows and accommodate bookings that might otherwise have gone to the Hynes.
The Hynes opened in 1963, and was rebuilt in 1988. The facility is in need of major capital investments — estimated at nearly $200 million over the next 10 years just to maintain its current state. These construction projects, and numerous major construction projects on surrounding structures in the Back Bay, could be disruptive to ongoing use of the facility and prevent attracting future business. The Hynes is also limited in its ability to expand its market share, given competition for nearby hotel rooms. At the same time, changes in neighborhood property uses and current market conditions have created value for the Boylston Street property, which could be put to more productive use through creative redevelopment. The proceeds of the sale will fund modernized, expanded, and enhanced facilities in the Seaport, serving convention business better and allowing Boston to continue to grow and evolve.
The plan will consolidate Boston’s large and small event business in a single, larger, more flexible space with an efficient and fiscally responsible approach. The legislation authorizes 200,000 square feet of additional space, which is expected to include a 100,000-square-foot exhibit hall; a 60,500-square-foot ballroom; and 44,000 square feet in additional meeting rooms.
The legislation includes a provision that would transfer an approximately 12-acre parcel of land located behind the current BCEC facility, not necessary for the expansion project, to the City of Boston.
MCCA employees who currently work at the Hynes would have the option of transitioning to the expanded BCEC.
John McDonnell, chairman of the board of the MCCA, said,“The Authority’s mission is to facilitate regional economic activity and we are excited at the opportunity to further strengthen the BCEC’s competitive position in the global meetings and events industry. The proposed expansion will ensure that the MCCA is meeting the needs of our customers and continuing to attract high quality convention business to the BCEC, and Boston, for years to come.”
Administration and Finance Secretary Michael J. Heffernan, a member of the MCCA board, said, “When we contemplate major capital investments, our Administration’s priority is to pursue those projects in a fiscally responsible way that is a win-win for everyone. Financing a BCEC expansion with proceeds from the Hynes sale will ensure that the Commonwealth enjoys the benefit of modern convention facilities without imposing more debt on taxpayers over the long term, while acting as a catalyst for private investment.”
After a meeting of the Executive Committee of the MCCA Board today, the proposal will be presented for consideration by the full MCCA Board of Directors at its meeting scheduled for Sept. 19. The process began in August 2017, when the MCCA released a Master Planning and Feasibility Study RFP to determine future needs at the BCEC. The MCCA selected Populous Architects to lead the process, working in partnership with the MCCA’s Board of Directors and stakeholders.
The study included a detailed marketplace analysis of the MCCA’s competitive set, local hotel inventory, BCEC historical performance and future booking commitments, and a comprehensive evaluation of existing MCCA facilities and land use. This was followed by an assessment of the BCEC’s current and prospective financial and operating conditions, anticipated future hotel demand, and potential funding sources to deliver a recommendation for a BCEC expansion program.
Once the legislation is enacted, the MCCA is expected to issue a Request for Proposals for the BCEC expansion project that would begin design of the expanded facility.
Executive Director of the MCCA David Gibbons, said, “Boston is a premier global destination in the convention industry and an optimized BCEC will ensure that we can deliver an outstanding experience for every customer. Boston attracts the industry’s best events not because we are the biggest, but because we are the smartest. This proposed expansion is just the latest example of a creative solution that meets our needs and sets the BCEC apart from our competitors.”
In 2015 the Baker-Polito Administration postponed the MCCA’s plans for a larger expansion of the BCEC which called for the state to borrow $1 billion to finance the project, without addressing the capital needs of the Hynes facility. The new proposal for an expansion is consistent with the MCCA’s current master plan, including the expansion components described above and opportunities to induce private hotel development proximate to the venue, and will require no new state borrowing.