Charlie Baker tries to sell Hynes as business booms at convention center

Shaun H. Ruff


When he said in March the Hynes Convention Center had to go, Gov. Charlie Baker apparently meant immediately, if the “for sale” sign his administration quietly hung is any indicator.

Baker was in Lynn Thursday to announce a $3.5 billion economic development proposal that he said would allow the state to get ahead of the problems being caused globally by supply chain issues and worker shortages.

Afterward, his administration said quietly in a release that the proposal would also allow the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority to sell Boston’s second convention space.

“This legislation would allow the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority to sell the Hynes Convention Center, with proceeds from the sale going to affordable housing development and the Back Bay area,” the release said.

The proposed legislation, An Act Investing in Future Opportunities for Resiliency, Workforce, and Revitalized Downtowns, or FORWARD Act, which would sell the center, would be funded in part by $2.3 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act and about $1.2 billion in capital bond authorizations.

Baker has floated the idea of selling the Boylston Street center in the past. He said in March that business there, in the very heart of the Back Bay, was “thin” in 2019 when the idea first came up.

Sale of the building was even authorized by the center’s ruling body, with members of the board citing market conditions and the lack of a need for a second convention center in the city as reasons to act.

Baker has said that Boston is the only city in the country operating two such spaces.

COVID-19 and the protests of unconvinced community activists killed that proposal, but the pandemic’s continued impact on downtown business hasn’t helped the Hynes find frequent use since, according to the administration.

“Occupancy levels at the Hynes fluctuated around 60% before the pandemic, and numbers have still not recovered,” the administration said.

Nevertheless, it’s long past time to let the place go, Baker said in March.

“Right now we have a big empty space, it’s millions and millions of square feet and not much goes on there, and it’s in a part of the city that is very quiet,” he said. “I think one of the things we would like to engage the Legislature on is how to make that space active and vibrant and what that looks like.”

The governor’s plans were announced just as the city’s annual PAX East convention began. PAX annually draws tens of thousands to the city’s other convention center, the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, for its showcase of video games and the newest in electronics entertainment.

Convention Marketing Center Executive Director Milton Herbert Jr. said Thursday during a report to that agency’s board — delivered at the Hynes — that “we’re not losing any business at all, business is coming back strong.”

MCCA Executive Director David Gibbons said the Boston Marathon Expo that kicked off at the Hynes on April 15 “was a great success” with 30,000 people attending.

Next month the Hynes will host a Massachusetts Apartment Association conference, the American Association for Thoracic Surgery’s annual meeting and a gathering of the New England Anime Society.

Officials with the MCCA described convention business in Boston as “through the roof,” “off the charts,” “coming back strong” and “maxed out” during Thursday’s meeting.

Herald wire services contributed to this report.


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