Bills carry out Baker’s convention center plans
BOSTON — One month after the Baker administration launched a new effort to sell the Hynes Convention Center and use the proceeds to fund an expansion of the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (BCEC), the legislative framework for that plan emerged.
Sen. Nick Collins and Rep. David Biele, both South Boston Democrats, filed bills Friday that would grant authorization for the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority (MCCA) to follow through on votes it already took toward implementing the sale and expansion.
In statements provided by Baker’s office, the two lawmakers described their legislation as a key step in the process but not as the final word on how the plan, which the administration wants to implement quickly, will unfold.
“The expansion of the BCEC could bring significant opportunities in terms of job creation and economic impact in the South Boston waterfront in a more diverse and inclusive way than ever before. But this is just the beginning of a community-driven process,” Collins said. “Anytime we consider a sale and transfer of state assets of this magnitude, there must be careful consideration of the public good. I look forward to a robust public debate on this proposal.”
Biele described the bills as “the start of public conversation involving potential economic growth and job creation” and promised it would go through “a robust review process.”
Lawmakers and Gov. Deval Patrick agreed to a 2014 law that would have authorized a $1 billion BCEC expansion adding 1.3 million square feet — more than double the roughly 500,000 square feet now being considered — to the center.
But Baker suspended the BCEC expansion once he took office, citing concerns about debt from the project.
He revived expansion efforts last month with a new plan to handle a significant portion of the costs by selling the Hynes, an older building expected to incur significant renovation costs over the next decade.
The MCCA’s board of directors embraced the plan, voting just days later to authorize the Hynes sale and BCEC expansion pending legislative approval.
Baker’s proposal would add about a 100,000-square-foot exhibition hall, a 60,500-square-foot ballroom and 44,000 square feet of meeting rooms.
“This expansion will meet demand, unlock greater economic potential, and support the creation of new jobs,” Baker said in a statement. “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.”
Collins and Biele’s bills include a transfer of 12 acres of surplus land not needed for the BCEC to the city of Boston, which was another component of Baker’s proposal.
Their legislation also has language requiring the MCCA to proactively promote participation in the development process from minority, women, and LGBT contractors and businesses.
House and Senate leaders have not yet indicated where they stand on the latest expansion proposal.