Convention center/HQ hotel debate heats up in Boston

Remember the Brookings report? You know, when Heywood Sanders, professor of public administration at the University of Texas at San Antonio, said that the convention center market was, according to an article we published in 2005 when the report came out, "oversaturated, that demand won't catch up with supply any time soon, and that convention centers, by and large, are not meeting economic impact expectations."

Not surprisingly, most in this industry, including IAEE, thought he was full of hooey. Eventually it all quieted down, and convention centers—most recently Philadelphia's—went back to expanding.

But as I read the Boston Globe this morning, I came across this column that cites Sanders in an argument against building a 1,000-room hotel near the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, and eventually doubling the size of the BCEC itself.

When asked why the forecasts for room nights booked due to the BCEC so far have proved to be a bit optimistic, Jim Rooney, who heads the authority in charge of the BCEC, says in the Globe column that the emphasis should be more on snagging the big biotech, medical device, and financial shows the BCEC currently is too small to accommodate (hence the need to expand the center) than on "how many people slept in the Westin."

I'm no city planner, but I've always been of the mind that we should beef up development around the BCEC, including hotels (along with residences, shopping, dining, etc.), to make it more attractive to the groups it already can accommodate but isn't getting now because the larger shows have to go pretty far afield right now to house all their attendees. I think a new headquarters hotel would be a good use of the millions of dollars in public subsidies it would require, because I do believe in conventions as "financial engines" for cities. Then we can talk about further expanding the center (and hopefully simultaneously continuing development of hotels/shopping etc.).

Boston's not alone in this fight by any means. Which do you think should come first, the convention center chicken or the hotel/area development egg? In cities like Boston that already have nice, relatively new convention centers but lack the facilities nearby to fully support conventions, I vote for the egg. Am I wrong? Tell me why.

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