Gov. Charlie Baker proposal to sell the Hynes Convention Center in the Back Bay is a decision that requires more careful consideration and one that shouldn’t dictate the planned expansion of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in the Seaport was the resounding sentiment heard from elected officials and other stakeholders during a hearing on future of the Hynes Monday at the State House.
“My concern is that the BCEC expansion is inextricably linked to the sale of the Hynes….and could put the two neighborhoods at odds,” State Rep. Jon Santiago testified during the hearing sponsored by the Joint Committee of State Administration and Regulatory Oversight. Instead, Santiago said the two properties should be “decoupled.”
David Gibbons, executive director of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, which operates both the Hynes and the BCEC, said the proceeds from the sale of the Hynes wouldn’t cover the entire cost $500 million cost of renovating the BCEC, but wouldn’t provide an estimated price-tag for the Hynes.
The proposed BCEA expansion would add a 100,000 square-foot exhibit hall, a second approximately 60,000 square-foot ballroom and 44,000 square-foot meeting space to the site, and create 2,500 construction jobs, as well as 1,200 permanent jobs, said Gibbons, who added that with its current configuration, the facility can only host a single convention at a time.
Gibbons described the Hynes as a “difficult, vertical building” and said it would take a $200 million investment to maintain the Hynes at its current level and cost $400 million to update the facility. The Hynes is also only occupied about 40 percent of the time, with less than half of the 5.8-acre site considered “top-tier space,” he added.
“Subsidizing two convention centers is something as a community we can’t afford,” Gibbons said.
But like Rep. Santiago, Sen. William Brownsberger also advocated for the “decoupling” approach and said while he could see the economic benefits of the BCEC expansion, “there are other ways to finance it besides selling the Hynes.”
Brownsberger added, “I’ve heard nothing over the two years this planning process has been going on. The whole community has been blindsided by this, and we’ve gotten little in the way of answers from administration.”
City Councilor Kenzie Bok also pointed to the proposed sale of the Hynes as a rash decision and one that arose without adequate community input.
“This is an example of the short-sighted decision making that we need to step back from,” Bok said. “You’re really trying to conduct open-heart surgery with no real community process at all.”
State Rep. Jay Livingstone also said he was “troubled by the announcement in respect of the Hynes,” and that he is awaiting economic analyses in the works from both Gov. Charlie Baker’s office and the Back Bay Association before he can thoroughly understand and weigh in on the matter.
Martyn Roetter, who chairs the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay board of directors, said, “It would be unwise and unjustified to make this expansion dependent on the sale of the Hynes.
“What happens if the site becomes an empty space like Filene’s in the Downtown Boston?” Roetter asked, adding that tourism could suffer if the sale of the Hynes came to pass. “I wish only the best for the BCEC…but it’s wrong to make it contingent on the sale of the Hynes.”
Meg Mainzer-Cohen, president and executive director of the Back Bay Association, said she doesn’t oppose the sale of the Hynes, but she believes “more legwork needs to be done.”
Mainzer-Cohen added, “We’re trying to play catch up because we’ve only known about it for a couple of months. We think at the end of the day it could be a homerun for everyone if we do a little more homework.”
Sen. Mark Pacheco, who chairs the Joint Committee of State Administration and Regulatory Oversight, emphasized that lawmakers still must approve the bill before the Hynes can go on the market.
“Any senator who knows the rules would be able to kill the project,” Sen. Pacheco said.
Time will run out on this bill July 31, when the legislative cycle ends.