If you build it, they won't come

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    If you build it, they won't come

    Maybe it's just that time of year again: when hopes of the convention-center boosters spring eternal. Last year, around this time, state muckety-mucks set out, hoping to rip off $2 billion of our money. [ Casey Ross, Panel backs $2 billion convention center expansion, Boston Globe, June 22, 2011, at http://www.boston.com/business/articles/2011/06/22/panel_backs_2b_plan_to_expand_convention_center/ ]

    Even at the perennially grafting Great and General Court, the boosters got booted out the back door last year. The state simply does not have that kind of money, and there is no borrowing capacity to spare. We still have at least another 20 years to go, digging out from under the Big Dig debt. So get lost.

    Lately, Jim Rooney--the center's director and chief optimist--has a new spin: he has so-called "contracts." They are for 6 events, heavy with escape clauses, if the $2 billion is spent. Rooney claims they will bring the state $180 million in "economic activity," but he is counting hotels, restaurants and trinket shops.

    State government would get only a few percent of that. Moreover, those "contracts" extend over six years. The state might realize another $3 million a year--from an average of one new event a year--if it were lucky. [ Christina Prigino, Build it they will come, CommonWealth 17(2):14-15, Spring, 2012, at http://www.commonwealthmagazine.org/~/media/Files/Commonwealth%20Magazine/CW%20Magazine/Full%20PDF%20Issue%20Files/spring2012S.ashx ]

    Last year, another article in CommonWealth estimated that the state needed $78 to $117 million a year in new revenue to support the proposed expansion. It's not there, not even a nickel on the dollar. Nationwide, almost all convention centers have been on downward attendance trends since the late 1990s, as people turn to the Internet for information rather than go to conventions. Convention centers are a business whose time has gone.

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    Just who are we talking about?

    What are the actual chances to attract convention and trade show business to Boston, if $2 billion were spent to enlarge the Seaport convention center? The current center appeals most strongly to conventions with attendance in the 7,000 to 20,000 range. The proposed center would raise that to the 15,000 to 40,000 range.

    There are a limited number of prospects. We can rule out events that are regionally focused outside New England and events that are focused on industries concentrated elsewhere. We're not going to take the fashion industry away from New York, the movie industry away from the West Coast, the trucking industry away from the Midwest or the East Coast security industry away from Washington, DC.

    Here is the list of main candidates. [ Trade Show News Network, 2012, at http://www.tsnn.com/datasite-us ]

    Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade 32,000 Las Vegas
    IACP bartending 31,000 Las Vegas
    RECon shopping centers 30,000 Las Vegas
    National Hardware 27,000 Las Vegas
    Cosmoprof beauty products 24,000 Las Vegas
    SURFACES floor coverings 21,000 Las Vegas
    POWER-GEN electrical generators 20,000 Las Vegas
    International HVAC 20,000 Las Vegas
    JCK jewelry 19,000 Las Vegas

    International Home & Housewares 41,000 Chicago
    National Restaurant 41,000 Chicago
    RSNA medical imaging 37,000 Chicago
    Fabtech metal forming and joining 35,000 Chicago
    ProMat materials handling 34,000 Chicago
    ASCO oncologists 26,000 Chicago

    PGA golfing 42,000 Orlando
    Performance Racing auto racing 37,000 Orlando
    National Assoc. Home Builders 34,000 Orlando
    CTIA WIRELESS telecommunications 26,000 Orlando
    InfoComm audiovisual 23,000 Orlando
    American Academy of Ophthalmology 16,000 Orlando
    HELI-EXPO helicopters 16,000 Orlando
    Attractions Expo 16,000 Orlando

    E3 computer games 37,000 Los Angeles
    FDIC fire department training 20,000 Indianapolis
    American Academy of Dermatology 17,000 New Orleans
    Safari Club 17,000 Reno
    American International Toy Fair 15,000 New York
    International Vision eyecare 15,000 New York
    Summer Fancy Food Show 15,000 Washington, DC
    Outdoor Retailer 15,000 Salt Lake City

    Of the 31 reasonable candidates, 9 would have to be taken from Las Vegas, 6 from Chicago and 8 from Orlando. That's hardly surprising, since those are the major U.S. locations for conventions and trade shows, but it means that competition for the business is highly experienced and can be expected to be fierce. Besides Boston, at least eight other centers would be struggling to take over each of the same events.

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    Re: If you build it, they won't come

     The problem with the BCEC is that it's priced too high for the local conventions to take advantage of it. 
     There are two small (by small I mean under 4K attendees) that take place right next door in the Westin Waterfront. The advantage to the hotel is:

    1. Cheaper. The hotel space doesn't cost half as much as the space in the BCEC.

    2. Food contracts can be negotiated, unlike the convention center. Amarak is the worst thing the BCEC ever did as that forces the smaller cons with a food section out, leaving hotels as the only option for them to run in.

     Outside of Pax East, which does run in the BCEC, there are no less than 6 other conventions that could run there if it were cheaper. Two of those take place in the Westin Waterfront. One is held at Harvard, one is in Mansfield, one is in the Hynes, and the other is in Framingham. And those 6 are the more popular ones. There are actually close to 20 smaller ones running in this general area.
     I know, it doesn't fill the calander, but a convention center needs every event it can get, and you can't say the smaller cons would hurt the BCEC or the Hynes. It simply seems that the convention centers deem them too small to do business with, and that kind of thinking does hurt them.
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    The trade show landscape

    The reader known as "undead" has quite a bit of information about the smaller trade shows in the area and might remember that some lower-budget shows used to appear at the Bayside Center in Dorchester before it hibernated in 2009. It had 240,000 sf of exhibit space, compared with 193,000 sf at Hynes (after 1988) and 516,000 sf at the Seaport center, so it could handle several of the shows now staged at the Seaport center.

    Apparently, there wasn't enough business to go around. With a recession squeezing both show operators and convention centers, public money behind the Convention Center Authority edged out private money behind Bayside. The World Trade Center, 120,000 sf at Commonwealth Pier, has managed to keep going--between hosting smaller events and running tie-ins with bigger events hosted across the road at the Seaport center.

    An expanded Seaport center would almost certainly lose more money than the Convention Center Authority is losing today, well over $60 million a year. Unless an expansion brought in several big shows--not just one a year, as director Jim Rooney has been touting--it would lose economically too, costing taxpayers more to support than all the local business it stimulated.

    The key question for a larger Seaport center is whether it could attract enough big events. There are not all that many of them, and each one has been going on for many years. Their managers tend to be experienced and strategic. About three-quarters of those events have already gravitated to the "big three" locations: Las Vegas, Chicago and Orlando.

    Boston would not be likely to have more success than other large centers already going after these events. The list shows that only the Javits in New York has more than one: the eyecare show and the toy show. The other large centers have either one of them or none of them. The Seaport center in Boston is already large enough to host several of these shows, but it hasn't attracted any of them.

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    Re: If you build it, they won't come

     Bayside lost a ton of business. I remember going to pet shows there and deal of the century sales. There was a big Sci-fi con there in '94 as well (Richard Hatch, Denise Crosby, David Prowse, Jeremy Bullock, James Huang, and a lot of others). 
     The sci-fi con has updated itself and moved to Framingham (happens in November). The others simply disappeared. 

     The sad thing is that the Hynes would get those conventions if it was large enough. This is the key problem with the MCAA in that, the BCEC, which they want to tought, is surrounded by absolutely nothing.
     There is one hotel attached to it and eating there will cost you your mortgage (albeit the food is much better tasting than anything Amarak can throw at you). There are plenty of delivery options but they'll only deliver to the hotel, not the BCEC. This means you have to temporarily leave the convention if you want to eat, which defeats the purpose of attending said convention.
     The Hynes has everything attached to it. Food, clothes, electronics, services, and even a full blown supermarket. Unfortunately, the ceiling is far too low to host the big cons the city wants.
     This is the reason why Pax East runs in the BCEC. You can't hang massive signs from a 15 foot ceiling in the Hynes, but the ceiling in the BCEC is 3 stories high.

     The area around the BCEC needs to be developed. It needs business to open up there to keep people in the area. Alas, nobody is opening up there because the BCEC isn't getting enough business for any of them to make any cash. Nobody can survive on 2 days of business a week. There needs to be something in the area besides the BCEC that can draw people in 7 days a week.
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    The large centers

    Hynes continues to attract the smaller events that its director-for-life Fran Joyce understood, until Gloria Larson got rid of him in 2003 (at a cost of $500 thousand). We exhibited there and at the somnolent Bayside a few times and didn't miss the high-altitude space, not running that kind of booth. You may remember that the 1965 War Memorial/Hynes center had only 9-foot ceilings but kept busy. The IEEE Electro show was squeezed into Bayside a couple of times in the 1990s, although it had to run overflow at the World Trade Center.

    In Boston, between the Seaport center and the Nazi funeral parlor at Hynes, the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority now operates about 969,000 square feet of total space, including 709,000 square feet of exhibit space. Together, those centers are bigger than the Javits in New York City, 675,000 sf of exhibit space. However, annual occupancy rates, in square feet-days rented vs. square feet-days available during the years, are clearly dismal, especially for the Seaport center.

    They can only be estimated, because the authority does not disclose its operating performance to the public--who are paying most of the costs. It makes broad-brush, probably inflated claims about spin-off trade--never supported by analyses or verifiable references. [ MCCA Annual Report, 2010, at http://www.massconvention.com/download/annual_reports/MCCA%20Annual%20Report_0606.pdf ] [ Corporate Social Responsibility Report, 2011, at http://massconvention.com/pdf/2011/FINAL%20CSR-2011_LowRes.pdf ]

    When it opened in 2004, the Seaport center was 17th largest in the U.S., counted as 516,000 square feet of exhibit space. After expansions elsewhere, today it is not among the largest 25. The giant U.S. convention centers--which director Jim Rooney would like us to pony up $2 billion for him to join--are:
    2,800,000 sf exhibits, McCormick Place, Chicago
    2,100,000 sf exhibits, Orange County, Orlando
    2,000,000 sf exhibits, Las Vegas, Las Vegas
    1,500,000 sf exhibits, Georgia World, Atlanta
    1,200,000 sf exhibits, Sands, Las Vegas
    1,200,000 sf exhibits, Kentucky, Louisville
    1,100,000 sf exhibits, Morial, New Orleans
    [ Smart Meetings, 2012, at http://www.smartmeetings.com/event-planning-magazine/2012/05/go-big-or-go-home ]

    Among those, we have exhibited at McCormick, Orange County and Morial. Compared to the Seaport center in Boston, they make it fairly easy to get in and out. Only Chicago and Atlanta are big cities. Unlike Boston, both have giant airports that house major airline hubs.The others are medium-sized cities that have wrapped much of their economies around tourist trade. Unlike Boston, Orlando and Las Vegas have aimed for decades to become destinations, and they are thick with high-speed roads and popular entertainments.

    McCormick and Orange County are doing fairly well, but the others are lagging. The sprawling Morial--a third of a mile along the Mississippi River in New Orleans--rarely has more than one of its five large segments in use. Much of the time the facility is vacant. Its annual occupancy has typically been under 10 percent.

    That was the kind of future predicted fifteen years ago for the Seaport center in Boston--by people other than its promoters of the day. The critics were right. The Seaport center has achieved less than half the business its promoters promised. [ Casey Ross, Convention centers at the crossroads, Boston Globe, March 23, 2011, at http://www.boston.com/business/articles/2011/03/23/hynes_boston_convention_centers_at_crossroads/ ]

    In 2010, the authority's three facilities--including a small one in Springfield--hosted only 15 sizable events, with no more than 50 days of partial occupancy among them: well under 10 percent of the authority's capacity. While no convention center achieves 100 percent, occupancy chronically below 30 percent is a sign of trouble. Hynes fills space with smaller events, but the other centers stay empty most of the time.

    Like many other centers in the U.S., the Seaport center has struggled to fill space--turning from trade shows and conferences, which generate spin-off trade at hotels, restaurants, taxis and stores, to consumer shows like boats and games, which draw from the local area and stimulate little added trade. Any success with those events only helps trim the authority's growing deficits. The Boston and Massachusetts business communities and tax revenues get almost nothing.

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    Re: If you build it, they won't come

     Actually the gaming con gets people from all over the world. The small sci-fi cons also get people from all over the world. The anime convention also gets people from all over the world.

     I would love to run a gaming con right here the metro area (somewhere within the T, preferably on the subway) but there is no way to justify that kind of cost for a gaming con. I looked into it 5 years ago and I would have draw in no less than 4,000 people just to cover one main ballroom, assuming any hotel would let me rent it for such purposes (they're very picky, especially when they can hit a wedding party for 20K).

     The Hynes would actually be a good venue but it's 3 times the cost. Granted, there isn't a convention every weekend here in MA, but if the price was cheaper than the 6 that are in this area could run there. 
     Actually, I should mention that one of those already runs in there. The anime con needs the Hynes and the Sheraton to run without running into a major space issue.

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    Regional events

    Many mostly regional events draw some people from long distances. We have attended events in Washington, DC, Minneapolis and San Francisco when business warranted. Surveys, however, indicate game shows mainly get local and regional audiences. That's why businesses other than the centers themselves complain that they see little or no uptick in trade from them.

    The Japanese animation show in Boston is a good case, though, for an off-beat approach to succeed. Its first years, 2003 and 2004, drew only about 4,000. It went into Hynes for 2005. By 2008 it was up to 14,000, and the show in April this year had 22,000 individual attendees over three days--a big draw for Hynes.

    Boylston Street would have been a great location for a bigger center--as compared to the South Boston waterfront district--but Menino's administration wanted to develop the waterfront, as it has slowly done. Building out Boylston Street could only have worked across Dalton Street, but the Hynes garage and Back Bay Hilton already had already taken the main spots.

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    Re: If you build it, they won't come

     AnimeBoston only had 4000 people the first two years because the hotel they were in couldn't hold anymore. All in all, 6000 people showed up the first year and they had to turn 2000 people away (I know, I was at that convention).
     Gencon is a big gaming con that gets people from all over the place. It can be done if you can get the companies involved. Therein lies the problem, however, in getting those companies to show up.
     As far as the attendees not dropping any money on the local businesses goes, where are you hearing this? The resturants within a mile or so of the BCEC love the cons. Pax East made more than one of them a lot of money, and when another convention went around the resturants to make their guidebook, they were offered discounts.
     Food is always key, though. People must eat. People do not, on the other hand, need trinkents or clothes with Boston on it to bring home. More than likely the money was spent on the super rare collectible in the dealer's room at the convention. That doesn't happen at your boat shows but it's a staple at a media or fan-run convention.
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    Spin-off trade and expansion

    The main evidence on convention and trade show spin-off is hotel room bookings. Travelers from out of the region who stay overnight spend three to ten times as much in the local economy as those who commute from their homes. They will buy several meals instead of just one or two. A convention center that can't attract the larger "destination" events will not generate enough trade to justify the commitment of public money.

    The Seaport center in Boston has little appeal for those larger "destination" events because of its awkward location. It is within walking distance of fewer than 2,000 hotel rooms and has no rapid transit service. The Silver Line extension was not planned, in the late 1980s, to accommodate a large convention center and is wholly inadequate for the facility there now. The most effective move the state could make to support its current facility and, perhaps someday, to justify an expansion would be to provide rapid transit.

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    Re: If you build it, they won't come

     I don't see how any transit, especially of the rapid kind, can get in there. Short of somehow spanning a section of bridge for a red line extension directly into a stop in the BCEC, I don't see any other way to make it happen.

     The current set-up is a system of free shuttle services that ferry people to and from the T and other locations. Some of the conventions have jumped on this. Pax East offered shuttle service to AnimeBoston as the two conventions have major crossover potential when it comes to the attendees.
     Other conventions set up shuttles to some of the better restaurants in the area. Not the easiest or quickest method, by far, but it does get the job done (and in better comfort than a subway car). 

     Of course the locals don't spend on hotel rooms. There's also a good reason why the locals don't have any money to spend on the trinkets you want them to. I'll use myself as an example as I attend most of the local ones:

     Cost of attending a convention in the Westin Waterfront (which is right next door to the BCEC):
     Membership tickets: free (I run gaming for both of those conventions so I get in for free). If you were to register at the door, however, plan on shelling out at least $60 for a full pass.
     Parking: Here's where the money goes. Parking at the hotel is going to run you $45/day on average. If you're willing to brave the cold (and I do mean cold) then you can try one of the mbta lots for $35/day. On Sunday, if you get there early enough, you can park on the sidestreet (metered parking) all day and not have to worry about getting tickets or being towed. I prefer the hotel valet's, though, as I know when I'll be walking out I'm going to be dead tired and I don't want to have to walk two city blocks to get to the car. As such, it's costs me around $145 for a 3-day convention and $190 for a 4-day convention. This is just to park the car. 
     Food: I get something of a break on this as I get access to the den where I'm on staff, so I can grab cereal or a sandwich in the morning and evening. Keep in mind, however, that this is not a meal. It's a snack, designed to tide you over until you can get to a meal. I tend to hit the late night food joints on the way home. Also, I help finance a pizza party for my staff at the end of the convention. Ballpack figure on food: $120
     That's over $400 right there for one convention, and the two I work on run in January and February. So, if I'm not dropping any money on the local businesses, now you know why. You want to change that, you get the parking lots to lower the rates.

     Conventions do work out deals with the hotels to offer cheaper hotel rooms, but even those rates are around $160/night, and those nights add up fast.

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    Facts of economic life

    The reader known as "undead" has written an interesting story about how business at a consumer-oriented show looks to a game-show exhibitor. Similar stories could likely be told about home, flower, boat and car shows. Experiences since the 1970s as both exhibitor and attendee made the somnolent Bayside look better for those events than any of the in-town centers: old and new Hynes, new Seaport, World Trade and other Boston hotels.

    Parking was much cheaper, and it was easier for exhibitors to get in and out. Of course, there was almost nothing else around, so food was usually a bag lunch or a concession-stand hot dog. However, state and city governments are not very interested in those shows, or at least they shouldn't be--for the same reasons. As cheapskates, we don't spend enough to help out local economies or tax revenues by much.

    The other side of the coin was and is the larger "destination" events: annual or semi-annual professional society meetings and business-to-business conferences. Those typically run three to five days and draw 90 percent or more of attendees from far enough away that they will fly in. The minimum budget to attend is around $500 for travel and $300 a day for expenses, so figure about $1,500 to attend a 3-day event. Of that, instead of only $200 or so, around $1,000 will be spent in the event's local economy.

    Exhibiting at those events is much more expensive: figure at least $6,000 for booth space, $2,000 for setup and breakdown with cargo fees for transporting booth materials and some heavy tips, about the same costs per person as attendees pay, and expensive extras at some events, like hospitality suites and dinners for major prospects. A fairly modest presence will cost $12,000 to $20,000 an event--of which at least half goes into the event's local economy.

    In the middle and late 1990s, the promoters of the new Seaport center promised to attract a "boatload" of those events, but so far they have little to crow about. Some among the general public might be impressed by the pizzazz at a game show, but the pros in business certainly are not. They know that the local economy is getting only 10 to 20 percent of what a similar-sized professional or business-to-business event brings.

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    Re: If you build it, they won't come

     The game show is better than nothing, and in this day and age, it's looking like it's the best you're going to get.

     The costs you are talking about can only be handled by businesses. No private person is going to spend 20K on a convention, no matter what kind of con it is. Businesses will, and once upon a time they may have, but look around. Businesses are cutting back everyone and spending as little as possible to survive, and shelling out that kind of money is only justifiable if you're trying to sell something. 
     The entire business model has changed in the last decade, and this is something the BCEC didn't pick up on. Those big cons you're talking about aren't the only conventions that get people flying in from all over the place. The smaller ones do as well.
     The two conventions that run in the Westin that I work on both get people from all over the world but the largest of those two is only a 3000 attendee convention, and neither of them is a business convention. They are both fan-run conventions.
     As such, some people are spending some money to attend, but the more they spend on necessities like hotel room costs the less they have to spend on trinkets, and even with the convention discount, the hotel room cost adds up quick.

     The BCEC needs to alter the business model to take in the new economics, which seem to have flown right over the head of everyone connected to large conventions.
     Economy stinks. Everyone's cutting back on spending. People still want to run and attend conventions but the money just isn't there. It isn't that the conventions aren't there, it's that they're too small to finance the local economy.
     The days of dropping 10K on the local businesses are over. Most conventions now, as I said, run in hotels and will limit attendance to stay in those hotels rather than expand into a convention center. The people making money at the convention are the restaurants around the hotel and the dealer's set up in the dealer's room. Everyone else loses.
     That's the reality of conventions today and this isn't going to change. The entire talk of hosting a convention to boost the local economy is a pipe dream. The BCEC is not going to bring in that kind of money.
     It can, if it lowers its prices, however, bring in the smaller conventions, which at this point is better than nothing.

     So, get used to the gaming con and the anime con being the biggest things in town, but don't expect them to spread the cash around. Same goes for the little ones.
     And don't discount the fan-run conventions. The only people who think those don't serve as much for business connections as the big ones do are the ones who never attend them. EX:
     Arisia - a convention with everything but started out as a sci-fi con. Lots of people in the college circuit, publishing industry, and authors are there.
     Boskone - leaner, old-school sci-fi con. Much more focused on the business of writing with more prominent sci-fi writers in attendance. Lately, also taking on an interest in games, as in video game writing. 
     Unitygames - a 1-day gaming con where you can find the department heads for no less than 5 other major gaming cons in the northeast.
     Totalcon - 4-day gaming con that hosts the regional tournaments. This is as serious as it gets in gaming.
     Vericon - Held at Harvard, this is a college version of a sci-fi convention. Look for playtesters here (as in people who make games coming in to test out new ones they're working on) as well as authors and artists. 

     These are all small conventions (the largest is 3000 attendees). They don't spread cash around the city, but this is what the convention community looks like today.
     The problem with the gigantic conventions is that they only succeed if they get a lot of people, and in this economy, if you're going to get a lot of people then it has to be a fun convention. Thus you get Pax East and AnimeBoston. Two huge conventions that both get more than 20K attendees, but those attendees are not businesses and as such they do not spread cash around.
     That's today's business model. It's what the BCEC has to work with. Will it adapt or will it strive for that which no longer exists?
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    Convention center economics 102

    We have no beef with game shows. However, as the previous reader convincingly argued, they don't fit with expensive, taxpayer-financed convention centers. Currently, we taxpayers in the state are chucking in well north of $60 million a year for a new Seaport center, opened in 2004, that has yet even to bring in even half the business its original promoters promised fifteen years ago.

    This year and last, current Convention Center Authority management has been angling for another $2 billion of taxpayer investment, claiming they can bring in some larger "destination" events when, so far, they have done poorly at bringing in events they can already house. They have been turning to consumer-oriented events just to fill parts of a vast expanse of empty spaces and vacant calendar slots. Economic facts of life are that the limited spin-off trade stimulated by consumer-oriented events does not justify taxpayer-financed centers we already have.

    Redevelopment of the South Boston waterfront--more recently called the Seaport district--is a long-range program, in which the new convention center is only a bit player. [ Tom Keane, The Boston waterfront has arrived, Boston Globe, May 13, 2012, at http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/articles/2012/05/13/waterfront_has_arrived/ ] The heavy hitters are the financial, high tech and law firms that have finally started to relocate there. It's for those prospects, much more than for the new convention center, that the state needs to extend rapid transit. Once that happens, the Seaport convention center also becomes well connected with the main Boston hotel and business districts.

    The state's original transit proposal was a Green Line spur from Boylston through South Station, but when estimated at $1 billion that dropped off the radar screen, and we got, instead, Silver Line buses. A Green Line link might have been a poor fit, anyway. Another approach could be a Blue Line spur from Aquarium--a more effective and underused line that goes to the airport and connects with the Orange and Green Lines at State and Government Center. Although involving a tunnel under the Harbor, that might be less costly because it would not intersect with the deep, complex Central Artery Tunnel.

    Eventually, the state also needs to provide genuinely useful highway access to the Seaport center, opening up the awkward Turnpike access ramps in the vicinity of northern B Street and widening so-called "Bypass Road," formerly known as "Haul Road," into a full-service thoroughfare connecting both ways to and from the Southeast Expressway. Potential needs for these forms of access were foreseen when the Central Artery Tunnel was being designed, but at the time redevelopment of the South Boston waterfront was just a speck on the horizon, and only minimal provisions were made for them.

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    Rise and fall of convention centers

    While emergence of the Seaport district from its backwater as freight terminals and warehouses is welcome, its future is not particularly well served by housing a bulky convention center. A few decades from now, if not sooner, what's there now will likely be seen as a low-productivity burden, and there will be pressure to clear it away. That happened in 1959 with the former Mechanics Hall of Boston on Huntington Ave., by then being called "grim" and "dated." [ history at http://forgottennewengland.com/tag/mechanics-hall/ ]

    As in Boston, over the last fifteen years most U.S. convention center business has fallen well short of predictions. A supply of space has been rising, while demand for it has been dropping. Boston's new center in the Seaport district was planned during an historic surge of convention and trade show activity. Measured by the major metric of hotel-room bookings, it has been producing less than half the trade forecast in 1997.

    In a 2005 review of the convention and trade show industry for Brookings Institution, Prof. Heywood Sanders of the University of Texas showed that attendance at major events peaked in 1996. Over the next seven years it fell by 20 percent. Exhibition space rentals peaked in 2000, then fell by 15 percent over the following three years. [ Space available: Realities of convention centers as an economic development strategy, at http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Files/rc/reports/2005/01cities_sanders/20050117_conventioncenters.pdf ]

    A survey in 2008 by Hans Detlefsen and Nina Vetter of HVS Chicago found 2000-2003 markets to be somewhat pessimistic, but later years did not see any resumption of growth resembling the 1980s and 1990s. Since 2000, space rentals increased in only three years. [ Convention centers: Is the industry overbuilt? at http://www.hospitalitynet.org/file/152003300.pdf ]

    From the late 1980s to the present, more than 80 U.S. cities built or expanded convention centers. Total space nearly doubled, growing from about 50 to over 90 million square feet--a long series of bad bets on a rosy future that failed to develop. Instead, convention and trade-show attendance began what appears to be long-term decline. Consumer shows continue to be popular, but they do not boost local economies by much. Average space utilization peaked around 21 percent in 2000 and apparently fell below 15 percent in 2009.

    Massachusetts convention center managers have proposed subsidies to build another Seaport district hotel, but Boston already has a surplus of hotel rooms. About 2,400 new rooms were added in the last six years to a previous Boston inventory of about 15,400. [ Thomas Dolan and Erich Baum of HVS International, Boston hotel market review, 2006, at www.hvs.com/article/2016/boston-hotel-market-review-2006/ ]

    There are two recent, privately financed Seaport district hotels, adding about 1,260 rooms to the 430 in a hotel opened in 1998. All other Boston hotels are beyond easy walking distance of the Seaport center, and the Seaport district has no rapid rail transit--only slow and sometimes crowded buses. Those were entirely foreseeable issues, but the state did not coordinate transportation plans.

    More public investment in a Boston convention center would earn low returns. The sector can be strengthened best by improving what it already offers. Convention center operations are absurdly costly--whole days for move-in and move-out. Quick turns, with reasonably priced services included in rentals, would boost the business. Our strongest interests are otherwise in efforts supporting all Seaport district activities, not just those of one sector.

  16. You have chosen to ignore posts from undead. Show undead's posts

    Re: If you build it, they won't come

     I have to disagree with you on the hotel room issue. We need more. Lots more.
     The smaller cons are losing out to the large ones (that run on the same weekend, especially if in the same hotel) as the smaller ones can't afford to pay the price and don't get a large enough block.

     Also, when you have two huge conventions running on the same weekend (like Pax East and AnimeBoston did this easter), 17,800 isn't anywhere near enough.
     AnimeBoston's attendance was over 22K alone. Add in 30K (70K is a gate figure from Pax East. Divide it by 3 to get your real number) and you get the picture.

     Game shows may not fit in terms of cash, but in size they do match very well. Pax East can't run in the Hynes. The BCEC is the only place it could run. The sad part of it is, however, is that it's only 3 days. Just not long enough to really get to do everything you want to do.

     If the game show, however, doesn't fit in terms of cash spent by the attendees, keep in mind who it's aimed for. Business people have corporate cards on them as they're usually attending a convention to boost their company's business so it can be written off as a business expense.
     Fan-run conventions or media conventions don't have this. The attendees are the average Joes and they don't carry corporate expense accounts. This is why those conventions don't spread money around.

     The BCEC or the Hynes lowering their costs only goes so far. There needs to be something else in the Seaport district that can attract people there year-round in order for the area to survive. If the BCEC can't do that then something else has to. What that something is, I don't know, but it better be built fast.
  17. You have chosen to ignore posts from AppDev. Show AppDev's posts

    Conventions on low budgets

    Just who might the previous reader be conning about Boston hotels: "We need more?" So who is "we?" Possibly the reader is not a Massachusetts taxpayer. The idea that a "huge" convention would draw only 20 or 30 thousand individuals is a laugh. Big shows in Vegas and Orlando are over 100 thousand.

    Certainly state taxpayers don't need more hotels. Financial markers for generating more revenues are anemic. Just because a game-show operator might eke out a little better living, we--the taxpayers--are not going to campaign for lower fees or fork over billions to finance a losing enterprise.

    The somnolent Bayside center is the Boston venue for the low-budget expo operator. This year, its biggest event looks to be a Food Truck Festival, starting June 10.

  18. You have chosen to ignore posts from undead. Show undead's posts

    Re: If you build it, they won't come

     Sorry, App, but I work with those conventions (run game rooms for two of them and can be found demoing games in the others). I also know how the hotels operate when it comes to conventions.

     Pax East shows their attendance by gate numbers. That means they tally up the gate totals over three days and give that number, so you divide the total # by 3 to get a rough idea of how many people showed up. AnimeBoston gives you a straight up number (based on badges sold).

     Again, let's be conservative and say 45,000 people show up in the city for a convention. How many of them are locals? Not as many as you think. Even if half of that number needs hotel rooms then 17K isn't enough.

     And when did I say the taxpayers had to pay for those hotels? The hotel chains aren't coming in because the BCEC doesn't bring in enough business to keep them functioning year round without the hotel itself having a substantial amount of space to rent out.
     One hotel has done just that, and that's the problem. The one hotel can sustain itself by renting out its ballrooms and meeting rooms, but whoever the next hotel chain is they will have a harder time performing the same function.
     As such, that hotel is relying on selling out its room every night, and that is not going to happen if you're relying on the BCEC or Hynes, so the hotel chains haven't come.

     And you forget, I work with fan-run cons. 20 - 30K is a hard number to come up with for fan-run conventions, unless it's an anime convention, and even then, only some of those can hit numbers that large.
     There aren't any 100K sized conventions I'd be interesting in attending. Very lacking in the personal touch and I can get all the info I need off the web about the item in question.

     So, take your pick. Lower the rates to let the smaller cons in and fill more weekends up or lose that money to the hotels. 
  19. You have chosen to ignore posts from AppDev. Show AppDev's posts

    Getting out of a financial jail

    Unlike the previous reader, we've put in some years attending and exhibiting at a few big professional and business events, ones that draw 50,000 individual attendees and up. They do have their purposes, and some of them work quite well. However, about three out of four have already gravitated to one of the "big three" locations. For sound business reasons, none are ever likely to move to Boston.

    Former Convention Center Authority director Joyce conned the state into building the Seaport center, falsely claiming that he could snare several medium-sized professional and business events away from other venues. That didn't work. Recently current Convention Center Authority director Rooney has been trying to con the state into building more and bigger. That has even less chance of success.

    Mr. Joyce promised that state spending on a Seaport center would generate new business revenue. There is almost no new business revenue being produced by that center. Most of what happened is that a few Boston events being held elsewhere moved there. It was like three-card Monte; the state was swindled.

    The state is locked into contracts to operate the Seaport center and can't lower rates by much, or it would lose even more money. Business has been so poor that the state has only two good options to cut its losses: see if it can sell the center to a private operator and, if it can't, tear it down and sell the land.

  20. You have chosen to ignore posts from undead. Show undead's posts

    Re: If you build it, they won't come

     Maybe that's what needs to happen, though, to let it sink. 
     There are simply far too many factors against it to keep it going without more major conventions, and I would include the media cons in that block.

     The problems are:

     No cash to spend. Sorry, John Q. Public doesn't have a corporate credit card.

     No infrastructure. There's nothing else in the immediate area. No food, no fun, no shops, nothing.

     Not enough transportation. I agree with you on this but I honestly don't see how they could fit a main T line into the area without tunnelling, and even then the logical line to use would be the blue line via the airport.

     Attendee frequency. By this I mean how many conventions will the average person attend. I'm one of the few who try to hit all of the cons. Most people I know, however, only go to one, with a few making it to two. This means you need a very wide variaty of conventions to attreact different people. This is one good thing about Boston. If nothing else, it's got a lot of variaty, although whether or not something can be big enough to throw a convention is another problem. 

     Not a 24 hour city. This hurts more than most people realize. A combination of lack of T service during the overnight hours and the fact that Boston is a college town, the financial district shuts down at 7pm and the rest of the city shuts down at 2 am, and it hurts convention attendees as most want to keep on going but there's nothing to do unless there's something going on in the hotel.
     This is why Pax East is so great. The BCEC may shut down but the entire lobby of the Westin is packed with people playing games all night long. This is an exception to the rule, however. Most larger conventions simply have nowhere else to go but their hotel rooms once the convention center closes.
    Contracts. Oh, what harm they bring to a convention center or, even, a hotel. If Amarake didn't hold the contracts with an iron grip then maybe some of the conventions further out would move back into Boston. If the teamsters didn't control the docks then that would also bring more of the smaller conventions in (they tend to like to do things on their own, especially when money is tight).

     Smaller conventions don't drop as much money but even they need things. Clothes, food, toothbrushes, combs, etc.. Money does get spread around, just not in the amounts you're used to seeing. Ask any resturant that doesn't have 4-star prices and you'll know what I mean.

     If the larger conventions won't come than you have to go with the smaller ones. It's better than nothing at all, but as it stands now, the BCEC rates are outrages for fan-run conventions, so the two I work on run next door in the hotel. And when you consider that there are 4 hotels with enough space to support a 4,000 person convention that can do it cheaper with more perks than the MCAA, well, they get the business and the city loses out.

     I would love to see the BCEC and the Hynes keep going. I'd hate to see them shut down as then Boston loses any and all shots at getting a major convention to happen here. Personally, I'm so glad Pax East runs here, because if it ran in New York I probably wouldn't attend. 
     However, with an infrastucture in place to keep people in the area then I it will, eventually, lose.
  21. You have chosen to ignore posts from FaolanofEssex. Show FaolanofEssex's posts

    Re: If you build it, they won't come

    The convention center at the Seaport was a bad idea from the start. Overpriced and overpriced hotel rooms in that area. The few conventions I have attended in that area, almost all the out of town attendees were staying at less expensive hotels in the downtown area. Seems like the developers of the Seaport area can't decide what their focus is on.
  22. You have chosen to ignore posts from AppDev. Show AppDev's posts

    Good arguments were ignored

    The convincing cases made out by readers "undead" and "FaolanofEssex" as to why the Seaport center is badly located were argued at the time the center was reviewed during 1992 through 1997, but they were ignored by the Globe, Boston Business Journal, NY Times and other major news media--who could only respond to visions of sugarplums. To the extent there was some open controversy, it was almost all about director-for-life Francis X. Joyce, previously an aide to Sen. Pres. Billy Bulger, who had powerful political connections but no convention-center background.

    [ Susan Diesenhouse, Convention center shapes Boston harbor area, New York Times, March 5, 2000, at http://www.nytimes.com/2000/03/05/realestate/convention-center-shapes-boston-harbor-area.html ]
    [ Charles Chieppo, Boston Convention Center's shrinking market, Pioneer Institute, 2001, at http://www.pioneerinstitute.org/pdf/010522_chieppo.pdf ]

    Seaport land taken for new development, including the convention center, had declined to low productivity. It was at its peak in the 1920s, when the four large piers were served by rail lines and were crowded with fishing boats, tugs, barges, oceangoing vessels and breakbulk cargo.

    Development of container shipping during the 1960s sent the port into deep decline, until Sea-Land's Castle Island terminal opened in 1966 and Massport's Conley terminal opened in 1980--at the east end of the South Boston landfill areas, south of the Reserved Channel and far away from the older breakbulk and fish piers.

    Now almost all transport in and out of the port areas is by truck. Among the few things that remain from the former South Boston port are buildings on Commonwealth Pier and the Fish Pier, the Summer Street and Trade Center viaducts, Our Lady of Good Voyage chapel, opened in 1952, and the dilapidated 1915 Northern Avenue steel truss swing bridge, partly open to pedestrians and no longer swinging.

  23. You have chosen to ignore posts from undead. Show undead's posts

    Re: If you build it, they won't come

     Something fun needs to go in there. Not a business park. Business parks don't draw in the public.  

     An entertainment center would draw in the people, depending on the type of entertainment. This is why I thought putting the casino there, instead of Easty, would be better as it would get hotels in the area and someway, some how, someone would figure out a way to get not only a direct T stop via the airport but roads running north and south directly into it.
  24. You have chosen to ignore posts from AppDev. Show AppDev's posts

    Getting from here to there

    In 1968 the Boston Redevelopment Authority started planning redevelopment of the South Boston waterfront, as it was usually called, issuing its first report in 1970. Shipping through the port had already dropped to minimal levels, because manufacturing was rapidly moving out, and shippers west of Boston, especially those west of Massachusetts, had faster and less expensive options through other ports.

    Boston planners then wanted manufacturing, but their only solid example was the Gillette plant completed in 1963 aside Fort Point Channel. Although the Turnpike Authority had already planned a third harbor tunnel route through South Boston, city planners of the day failed to understand that the area was hemmed in by poor land transportation, and they did not cooperate in any visible way with the Turnpike Authority.

    The main rail corridor into the South Boston waterfront had been consolidated by the New York, New Haven & Hartford from older, class 3 lines going through Readville. Land now occupied by the Seaport convention center housed a switchyard for port-area rail. The New Haven operated Fan Pier and the three adjacent piers, and it ran spurs to Commonwealth Pier, both sides of the Reserved Channel and back streets. In the 1890s it built a trenched, grade-separated connection between the waterfront and Readville yards.

    The New Haven's interest was building traffic on its main line to New York City through Providence, a strong passenger line but a slow and expensive freight corridor. It managed to block freight access to the South Boston waterfront by the much more effective Boston & Albany line through Worcester. In the 1960s era of rail bankruptcy, when all those tracks fell under the Penn Central, the city and state missed their key opportunities to intervene. Anthony Athanas took sharp advantage of the opportunities, buying all four of the idle shipping piers and opening his fabulously successful Pier 4 restaurant in 1963.

    Likewise, city and state agencies did nothing to improve road access until Haul Road, now called Bypass Road, was built to meet needs of the Big Dig, using the rail right-of-way to Readville. That has now become the corridor to Conley Terminal. A single-track rail spur, down the middle of E. 1st St., is still in place but has been paved over. The rarely used track 61 spur to Marine Terminal, as it is now known, was restored and is now the only remaining rail infrastructure in the Seaport district. So far, the Marine Terminal area has no large business other than seafood processing, which appears to be in long-term decline.

    Manufacturing still figures in plans of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, but now that means biotech--in connection with research facilities it is trying to attract. Vertex Pharmaceuticals, building near former Pier 2, is the only venture so far. Fish & Richardson, a large patent-law firm, has relocated nearby. Once again, transportation remains a key ingredient, but now this means rail rapid-transit. So far there are no plans to build any.