Rooney Urges Governor to Act Quickly on Boston Expansion Review

HIL ANDERSON, SENIOR EDITOR
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Boston, MA – James Rooney, the outgoing executive director of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority (MCCA), urged the state’s new governor to move quickly with an 11th-hour review of the financing plan for an ambitious expansion of the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (BCEC).

Rooney said that dragging the review out too long would only add to the cost of the $1.1 billion project, which was approved last Summer by the state legislature. “I believe that now is the time to move forward and take advantage of current low interest rates, avoid rising construction costs and, more importantly, capitalize on the MCCA’s 10-year track record of success in bringing world-class events to Boston,” Rooney said.

Rooney said that Gov. Charlie Baker’s decision to “pause the expansion process” also “pauses significant economic development.”
Baker, who took office this year, said at the end of April that he was overhauling the 13-member MCCA board of directors by appointing seven new members. The revamped board, he said, would conduct its own review of the expansion plans and decide if the funding for the project would be best used on other capital projects. “The environment has changed greatly in the five years since this proposal was first introduced,” the governor said. “Plunging ahead now, when the data on the expansion’s feasibility is mixed, combined with the changes in leadership at the MCCA, would be irresponsible given the vast amount of taxpayer dollars necessary.”
Rooney, who is leaving the MCCA to become the head of the Boston Chamber of Commerce this Summer, was the leader in pushing the expansion project. The proposal included the addition of 1.3 million square feet (sf) to the existing BCEC, including new meeting rooms and ballroom space plus increasing the center’s exhibit space to 850,000 sf.

The center currently features 516,000 sf of prime exhibit space and is ranked 24th on the Trade Show Executive World’s Top Convention Centers (WTCC) roster. The expansion would move the BCEC up to 13th on the WTC, just ahead of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York.

The MCCA’s public rationale for the expansion is that it would draw additional meetings, trade shows and other events to the BCEC, creating a surge of new tourism revenues and a long list of job openings.

However Baker may not be quite as enthusiastic. He is a past executive director of the Pioneer Institute, a Boston think tank that has been cool to the idea of expanding the center. The institute contended in a report published last year that the expansion would divert as much as $5 billion in tourism revenues that currently go into Boston’s general fund, and that the exhibitions industry’s growth was losing steam and might not create enough future demand to justify the project.
Reach Jim Rooney at (617) 954-2470 or jrooney@massconvention.com