Hynes Convention Center sale sparks calls for a performing arts center

Developers are starting to eye the 5.8-acre Hynes Convention Center property that state officials want to sell to the the highest bidder — prime real estate some want transformed into a performing arts center.

“Whatever goes there will be important for the thriving commercial environment in the Back Bay,” said Martyn Roetter of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay.

Boston Lyric Opera spokesman John Michael Kennedy told the Herald such a center would be welcome.

“There is absolutely a need for a performance space that is modern and has the technology and custom amenities that modern audiences expect,” Kennedy said.

Last month the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority members voted to dispose of the Hynes Convention Center and sell or lease the property to pay for a $500 million expansion of the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. It’s a move that requires legislative approval, but state officials are plowing ahead — last week the MCCA issued a request for proposals for brokerage firms that would help market to the property to potential buyers.

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said it’s still too soon to say what might go there, but he promised a “robust” public process that he said would likely include a mix of housing, retail or office and some kind of public amenity.

“We have to take a good look and see that’s a big piece of land. Hypothetically if the legislation passes, then we have to see what we could put there — some could be performing arts space,” Walsh said.

A study released last year by the Boston Planning & Redevelopment Authority highlights the need for a multipurpose performing arts center — something Boston currently lacks. It found that the Boston Lyric Opera and Boston Ballet have particular challenges related to technical amenities, audience amenities and booking cycles that the city’s current landscape of performance venues does not satisfy.

“The neighborhood needs to start to get an understanding of what possibilities are out there,” said state Sen. William Browsberger.

Back Bay Association President Meg Mainzer-Cohen, who represents 400 member businesses, called state officials out for a “real lack of due diligence” and planning ahead of the state’s September announcement that it intends to sell the Hynes. She said the loss of the convention center could have real impact on surrounding businesses that rely on the crowds the Hynes draws.

“One thing we know without a doubt is that people going to conventions are particularly big spenders — they stay in hotels, they go out and shop, they go out to eat. … We need to make sure there’s a replacement for that economic vitality,” Mainzer-Cohen said.

“We really don’t need any more luxury condo buildings,” said Roetter of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay.

Mainzer-Cohen and Roetter agreed the site should continue to host some type of civic space.

“People will realize what incredible potential this has and if we work together with the city, hopefully it will be a fast process,” MCCA chief David Gibbons said.

Gibbons isn’t giving away any hints on exactly how much the MCCA hopes to take in from the sale of the Hynes, but he is adamant that it will be enough to cover the $500 million expansion project he has planned for the BCEC.