Editorial: Seaport reservations
Champions of a massive expansion of the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center have long sold the public on the claim that Boston is losing out on big events because of a lack of adequate meeting space. It seems just as likely that the Hub may lose out because conventioneers at the existing facility have nowhere to rest their weary heads.
A new report commissioned by the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority confirms what anyone who strolls along Summer Street when a big meeting is in town already knows: There is a shortage of hotel rooms near the BCEC, forcing meeting planners to spend enormous sums transporting conventioneers to and from their Back Bay, downtown or Cambridge hotels by bus.
According to the report by hotel consultants CHMWarnick, the BCEC ranks last among key competitive cities for number of hotel rooms within walking distance. Bookings are projected to decline by up to 41 percent from 2018 to 2021 because meeting planners can’t assemble enough hotel room blocks — and because of those staggering transportation costs, when compared to other cities.
With the economy pumping and hotels able to command higher rates it’s becoming difficult to secure whole room blocks, at least at competitive prices. And when the BCEC holds events that require 3,000 rooms or more it has a trickle-down effect on the Hynes Convention Center, which has to operate below capacity because all the nearby hotel rooms are taken.
MCCA chief David Gibbons says the area needs another 1,800 rooms. And just as there was a rush to plunge ahead with a now aborted $1 billion expansion of the BCEC, there was a push for a massive public subsidy to build a new hotel.
But Gibbons points out what should be obvious — that “in a market this strong, we shouldn’t have to subsidize.”
Addressing the hotel problem won’t be simple, given the limited availability of nearby development sites. Massport is already committed to putting a 500-room hotel on land it owns nearby. Regardless of the solution it is not the financial responsibility of the taxpayers.