Gov. Charlie Baker wants to sell the Hynes Convention Center and use the money to fund an expansion of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in the Seaport.
The Massachusetts governor announced plans Monday to file legislation authorizing the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, the state agency that owns and oversees the two Boston convention centers, to sell the Hynes property in Back Bay and set aside proceeds from the sale to expand the 2.1 million-square-foot BCEC by another 200,000 square feet.
According to Baker’s office, the goal of the plan is to consolidate the city’s major convention business in “one dynamic location,” while also opening up the valuable Hynes space for redevelopment.
“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 said in a statement.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is also on board; in a statement he said the proposal “presents a new opportunity to expand the Convention Center and bring a significant piece of land back to Boston,” benefiting both the Seaport and the overall city.
The proposed BCEC expansion would include a 100,000-square-foot exhibit hall; a 60,500-square-foot ballroom; and 44,000 square feet in additional meeting rooms, according to the Baker administration. The plan will be presented before MCCA’s board of directors at a meeting Thursday.
Expanding the BCEC, which is already one of the region’s largest convention centers, is not a new idea.
In 2015, months after first taking office, Baker put the brakes on plans for a 1.2 million-square-foot expansion of the Seaport convention center, which would have been financed by $1 billion in state bonds. At the time, the Republican governor said the project would be “irresponsible given the vast amounts of taxpayer dollars necessary to not only build but operate the expanded facility.”
The new plan has a more responsible financing plan, according to his office.
The Baker administration says that the Hynes, which first opened in 1963 and was rebuilt in 1988, is currently in need of $200 million in maintenance costs over the next 10 years. Such construction, officials say, will already be disruptive to the use of the Boylston Street facility and could limit future business. The Hynes also faces competition for nearby hotel rooms. Baker’s office says it would be “more productive” to redevelop the property. Under the plan, MCCA employees at the Hynes would have the option to move to the expanded BCEC.
“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,” Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said in a statement.
The new plan — which would cost $500 million and actually shrink the MCCA’s total convention space by 8 percent, according to The Boston Globe — also calls for a 12-acre parcel of land located behind the BCEC to be transferred to the City of Boston. According to Baker’s office, the parcel is no longer needed under the updated, smaller BCEC expansion.
Baker’s office touted Boston as a major global events destination Monday and said the BCEC, which is located across the harbor from Logan Airport and near the booming Seaport district, outperforms its national peers in terms of occupancy. With just 176,480 square feet of space, the Hynes has generally hosted smaller events, from the Boston Marathon Expo to Baker’s election night rally last year.
Still, some criticized the plan to sell off the Hynes, which provides a more centrally located convention space.
“The Hynes is in a much better area in terms of things to do and accessibility,” Adam Castiglioni, a Boston-based hospitality professional, who runs a blog about the industry, tweeted Monday. “It’s walking distance to much more than the BCEC will ever be.”
Baker’s office says the selling the Hynes would help finance a more modern and appealing space at the BCEC.
“Boston is a popular convention destination, and there has been market demand for larger, more flexible event space in recent years,” the governor said. “This expansion will meet demand, unlock greater economic potential, and support the creation of new jobs.”