Boston Launches Campaign to Expand Convention Center, Add Hotel Rooms

HIL ANDERSON, SENIOR EDITOR
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on print
Share on email

Boston, MA – Civic and business leaders in Boston announced a strategic goal to increase the city’s share of the convention and trade show industry by increasing the hotel room inventory and expanding the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (BCEC).

The expansion is seen as vital to maintaining Boston’s current market share and turning the city into a “top five” North American destination. The process began with the formation of a 25-member task force of stakeholders who will meet with community members, analyze the project and deliver their findings to state and local political leaders by December 31, 2010.

The benefits of an expansion were already being touted when the plan was announced November 23. The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority (MCCA) said a recently completed study it had commissioned determined that Boston would be unable to hold on to its current position as a trade show destination without expanding the BCEC. “We could sit back for the next few years, do nothing and still be successful,” said MCCA Executive Director James Rooney. “But that is not an appropriate long-term strategy.”

The study concluded that BCEC simply did not have the square footage needed to accommodate the type of major exhibitions the city desires in the coming decades. The lack of a second ballroom also prevents the building from hosting more than one major event simultaneously.

The report said BCEC was essentially sold out beginning in 2011 and that Boston had lost 72 prospective shows due to concerns over space, open dates and hotel rates. The missed opportunities, the report said, translated to a potential $366 million economic benefit to the Boston area.

The BCEC, which offers 516,000 square feet of prime exhibit space, is ranked No. 25 in the Trade Show Executive World’s Top Convention Centers directory.

While the announcement did not specify the dimensions of the proposed expansion, the convention center has 22 acres of undeveloped space at its disposal that is currently used for parking.

Mid-Priced Rooms Scarce

Boston’s strategic initiative will also examine what is seen as a shortage of hotel rooms in the immediate vicinity of the BCEC, particularly those in the mid-price range that are in demand for conventions and trade shows. The MCCA said the cost of shuttling attendees to and from their hotels had, for some events, reached as high as $700,000 at a time when some of Boston’s competitors have been actively increasing the number of hotels within walking distance of the convention halls.

Political Support Lined Up

The strategic initiative was not launched as a trial balloon. Support from the state capital, city hall and the business community was in place when the plan was announced. Rooney was joined at the announcement by Gov. Deval Patrick and Mayor Thomas Menino. Paul Guzzi, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, was announced as a co-chairman of the task force along with Rooney. The task force, known as the Convention Partnership, will include “key stakeholders, opinion leaders and decision-makers.”

The announcement included predictions of 5,000 construction-related jobs created by the expansion at a time when employment in the construction industry had declined 16%. In addition, the expansion would support another 1,200 permanent hospitality jobs and have a ripple effect statewide of as many as 4,500 positions.

The expansion would also bolster Boston’s standing in the international meetings market. “Globalization is a long-term, ongoing trend that will be unfettered by economic cycles,” Rooney said.

There were no specifics on financing the projects, although the task force noted that construction costs in the region had recently fallen between 20% and 30%.

The Boston Herald quoted an unidentified “industry veteran” who said an increase in the hotel tax was an option although likely not one that would be embraced enthusiastically by the industry.

Reach James Rooney at (617) 954-2122 or jrooney@massconvention.com