Boston convention crunch?

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June 15, 2012, 7:06 pm
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(NECN: Peter Howe, Boston) Starting Monday, more than 15,000 people will be flocking to the 2012 BIO International Convention event, an event certain to showcase Boston as a global hub for biotechnology, biomedical and life-sciences companies.

But as excited as city and state leaders and hospitality-industry firms are to welcome them, the event is maxing out the city’s convention facilities, taking over the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center, World Trade Center, and hotels for miles around. And already some officials are warning: Unless Boston moves soon to expand its convention infrastructure, this could be the end of the line for BIO in Boston.

"We do have a contract with BIO to return in 2018, [but] they have included in that a so-called walk-away clause that allows them at the end of 2013 to say, ‘You know what? We can’t fit any more in Boston, so they'll walk away," Massachusetts Convention Center Authority CEO James E. Rooney said Friday morning during a taping of NECN’s This Week in Business show that airs Sunday at 12:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.

The problem, Rooney said, is BIO close to joining 14 other major national conventions – including events that would be a dream for Boston to host like the American Medical Association and American Dental Association -- that have grown so big that Boston lacks the convention space to compete for them with Chicago, New Orleans, Orlando, Las Vegas, or other big convention venues.

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s when the BCEC was being developed and built in what had been derelict rail yards off Summer and D Streets, officials set aside enough land at the South Boston end of the site that they could in the future potentially double the overall size of the BCEC, once there was enough demand from conventioneers to come to Boston. The Convention Center Authority is funded overwhelmingly by taxes and fees that are paid mainly by tourists and visitors, like hotel-motel and restaurant taxes and fees on airport car rentals and taxi rides and even a small tax on Duck Boat Tour tickets; most likely any expansion of the BCEC would be funded by raising those or similar levies.

City hospitality industry leaders like Patrick Moscaritolo, CEO of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau, say that time has come.

"It’s really interesting. People say, 'Wait a minute, you just opened this,' and, yes, it opened in 2004, but the convention and meeting industry has continued to grow," Moscaritolo said during a taping of NECN’s CEO Corner show that airs Sunday at 8:30 p.m. "Expanding the BCEC would put Boston in a position for the next 20 years to really be one of the top cities in the U.S. for major conventions and meetings."

In evaluating the economics of what could be a half-billion-dollar expansion, including new hotels, some fiscal watchdogs have questioned whether there’s enough potential return on investment that Boston and Massachusetts should sink hundreds of millions of dollars more into convention infrastructure, rather than trying to maximize usage of and return on the convention facilities that exist and acquiescing to a reality there would always be 15 or 20 huge shows Boston simply couldn’t bid on.

"Cities from all over the world are trying to catch up to us," Rooney said, "and if we're complacent and say, 'You know what? It really doesn’t matter if we host BIO anymore' – I think that's a go-backwards strategy."

With videographer Bob Ricci.

Tags: Boston, Peter Howe, convention center, BIO International Convention, busines, convention facilities
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