While the state legislature is reportedly expected to decide on Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposal to sell the Hynes Convention Center by mid-May, elected officials and other neighborhood leaders convened a town hall meeting to discuss what the decision could potentially mean for the future of the Back Bay on Saturday at the Copley Branch of the Boston Public Library.
“Public space is where everybody is equal, and by reducing public space, it promotes inequality,” said Sen. William Brownsberger, who hosted the meeting in concert with Reps. Jay Livingston and Jon Santiago. “Our constituents have deep reservations about the Hynes and what might come in its place.”
Like his constituents, Sen. Brownsberger said he felt blindsided upon first hearing of the potential sale of the Hynes last September, proceeds from which would be used to underwrite the expansion of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in the Seaport.
State Rep. Joe Santiago echoed this sentiment, describing the conversation around the potential sale of the Hynes – a discussion that has taken place without sufficient input from the Back Bay’s residential and business communities – as being “one-sided.”
Similarly, City Councilor Ed Flynn, said, “There should be a voice in this process for the residents, and there should be a voice for the business community as well.”
Rep. Livingstone said he looks forward to seeing an economic study commissioned by the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority on the potential impact of the sale of the Hynes on the neighborhood, which reportedly shows the potential for a 2.3-million square-foot, mixed-use project, consisting of office space, shops, restaurants and 650 housing units. He added he is also eagerly awaiting a “more in-depth” study on the matter from the Back Bay Association.
Meg Mainzer-Cohen, president and executive director of the Back Bay Association, said she expects their economic study will be released in the “next week or two,” and that it would look at the long-term impact of losing the Hynes on the neighborhood, as well as examine other cities with multiple convention centers “to see if the Hynes could work in tandem with the BCEC.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Livingstone contrasted the lack of public process surrounding the Hynes with the process for the potential redevelopment of the Charles F. Hurley Building on Stanford Street, which he said has already included “six or seven” public meeting prior to the release of a Request for Proposals for the project.
City Councilor Kenzie Bok also pointed to the more-thorough public process for the potential Hurley redevelopment, saying in that instance, it helped provide a “roadmap” to guide future development.
And like Rep. Livingstone, Councilor Bok also said she looks forward to reading the economic studies on the Hynes to better understand the matter.
“What questions can we get answered by an economic study that could show better alternatives to the Hynes?” Councilor Bok asked. “Even if you demonstrate [the potential for] something more vibrant than the Hynes, you won’t get that by offering it to the highest bidder.”
Councilor Bok also expressed concern regarding the “economic cost of taking down a building the size of the Hynes at a time when we’re trying to reduce carbon emissions.”
Elliott Laffer of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay, described the Hynes as “the right size [venue] for intelligent-oriented conventions” and “unique” given its access to nearby hotels, as well as the Prudential Center and Copley Place.
In contrast, he said the BCEC “looks like every other convention center and could be anywhere,” and “to throw the Hynes away for that would be stupid.”
While those in attendance at the town hall meeting largely opposed the sale of the Hynes, Sen. Brownsberger said other lawmakers still might want to weigh in on the matter.
“There are 39 other senators and 100 other reps who may have some views on these issues,” Sen. Brownsberger said. “We’re feeling our way to find out what momentum there is for the proposal and what we can do to exert control over it.”