Baker: ‘Tremendous Interest’ in Redeveloping Hynes Site

While Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday his administration has noted “tremendous” interest from real estate developers in his proposal to sell off Back Bay’s Hynes Convention Center for redevelopment, legislative leaders were reluctant to jump on board the bandwagon following a routine meeting with Baker and Lt. Gov Karyn Polito yesterday.

The governor, who during his first term put the brakes on a previously approved legislative plan to expand the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, told reporters after the meeting that there is “a tremendous amount of interest among the developer community for that site,” he said.

The plan, already approved by the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, would see the Hynes sold to help finance a $500 million expansion of the BCEC in the Seaport. Because the sale of the Hynes, the linchpin of the governor’s plan, requires approval from the state legislature, the BCEC expansion would likely not be able to advance without lawmakers weighing in favorably.

“I believe that I need to first discuss this with some of my colleagues, particularly those that represent these areas and to hear the pros and the cons,” Senate President Karen Spilka said. “But I understand what the proposal is, so in the future I will have more to say as to whether I can fully support this or not.”

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who said he has supported the general idea of expanding the BCEC “for a period of time,” said it is too soon to say whether he supports the governor’s plan or not. He said Baker’s proposal is good “fodder” for the legislature to think about.

“I think it’s early in the game right now to be saying whether we can support all aspects of that or not, but I think it’s good that we have something on the board now to discuss in terms of expansion of the convention center while at the same time financing it,” the speaker said.

The legislative leaders’ take-it-slow approach to the BCEC expansion issue runs counter to the Baker administration’s apparent desire to put its plan in motion rather quickly. The plan was announced publicly last Monday and by Thursday afternoon the MCCA’s board had approved it.

The executive director of the MCCA said last week he would like to have a request for proposals to find the teams that will design and construct the expansion at the BCEC out within the next 60 days.

After DeLeo and Spilka broke off from the post-meeting scrum with reporters, Baker talked up his BCEC expansion plan and said he understands that the speaker and Senate president are playing their cards close to their vests.

“In this particular case, you have a facility in the Back Bay that is underperforming, that loses money, that requires an enormous investment to just continue to underperform and lose money; and you have a facility in South Boston that is performing well, that makes money, that could be expanded with the proceeds associated with the sale of the other facility,” Baker said. “I think this is a win-win-win.”