Super-Sizing the Boston Convention Center

The Boston Convention Center has long been a topic of interest for me, dating back to its original construction. To be fair, the BCEC has done OK, although far less successful than its original projections. Now, the Convention Center Authority has presented the citizens of Massachusetts with an intriguing chicken-and-egg proposition. It needs to expand its size and build a large hotel, as it can’t attract larger conventions without a “headquarters” hotel. But it also needs to be large enough to attract the largest conventions (which it can’t do without an even bigger hotel, get it?).

So, what’s the public interest here? A public subsidy (taxes, fees and/or bond funding) will be needed to support the two projects, whose combined price tag may reach $2 billion. To build the case for this spending, the Convention Center Authority has charged a group of 27 individuals with acting to “steward the public study of the…initiative.” The problem is that a great many of these 27 have too much skin in the game – do you think members of the tourism industry will be objective judges of expansion? How about the Building Trades unions? Or the three hotel operators on the panel?

Next, the Authority has three high-priced consultants (Sasaki, HVS, and CSL), who have (unsurprisingly) favored expansion. My personal favorite is CSL – Convention Sports and Leisure, which has not seen an expansion project it doesn’t like. Just take a look at their work to get a sense of what they do: Boise, ID; Hendersonville, TN; and Palmer, AK. All good candidates for convention facility expansion. Must be a limitless supply of convention goers out there.

So, you’ve got an oversight committee, pockmarked by conflicts of interest, and outside consultants predisposed to support expansion. How do you expect this to go? Leave a comment below to tell me. Over the next two weeks, I’ll be digging deeper into this story.