A non-conventional pain in the butt, but. . .

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Jeff Jacoby was right on in his Globe op-ed of May 6th on the rush to get even more subsidies for the Hynes Convention Center. In the piece, Jeff compares Patrick Lyons’ private investment proposal on Lansdowne Street to the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority (MCCA) proposal for more subsidies to prop up the Hynes and asks why one is being done with private financing and the other one requiring more subsidies on top of old ones, on top of a big chunk of money thrown at the new South Boston facility.

Now, I’ve received a number of queries asking why Pioneer hasn’t continued to hammer away on Convention Center subsidies and turning the Hynes over to a higher and better use.

Well, Pioneer does not aim just to be a pain in the butt. We want to get stuff done, and frankly the issue is not “ripe.”

When Pioneer stood against the construction of the Seaport district facility with three studies and a dozen op-eds, as well as lots of outreach, we believed we had a good chance of turning the tide against the project. We hoped that we could get the 60-plus acres used to build garden-style apartments—7,000-plus of them could have been built there and would have been an attractive place for the 25 to 45 year olds we so need to provide competitive housing for.

We had impact, changing the way the facility got financed, but we lost the larger war. It got built and now we want the South Boston facility to succeed.

Unfortunately the numbers are not there.

Notwithstanding the success of the BIO event (congratulations, Jim Rooney!), the two convention centers attract more local and professional meetings, consumer shows (Auto, Home, Boat shows), and too seldom large tradeshows where new products and services are exhibited, and national convention that draw association members to a city.

The projected number promised in the original 1996 study by Charles Johnson, and the lower, revised Price Waterhouse Coopers numbers that were released in 2001 are not even close to being approached.

The 1996 Final Report called for nearly 800,000 room nights at the South Boston Convention Center alone. Back in 1999, in a paper on Convention Center Feasibility Studies, nationally recognized scholar Heywood Sanders, Professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, estimated that the new convention center might reasonably attract 45 events per year, with an average attendance of 6800, and and average of 1.1 room nights per attendee. All that works out to 336,000 hotel room-nights. If you’re as good at math as me, that comes to less than half the 800,000 in the consultant’s Final Report.

It is worth remembering that it is also less than half of the between 612,000 and 697,000 hotel room nights called for in the later Price Waterhouse Coopers report.

So why does the Convention Center Authority’s 2006 Annual Report celebrate reaching 202,000 room nights at the BCEC? Look, the cumulative total of room nights at both the BCEC and the Hynes is just over 500,000.

So what are we waiting for? The Institute is going to wait until the Seaport district is built out a little further, so that many of the events now going to the Hynes can resaonably be marketed to the BCEC. Then we are going to push hard for a constructive and at that point actionable solution to sell off the Hynes. Jeff sums it up perfectly:

“Rather than sink another $18 million into the Hynes, the state should auction it off to the highest bidder. Let the free market determine how best to use the site. If a convention hall on Boylston Street makes economic sense, private investors will gladly step up to the plate.”

The MCCA should, in the interim, stop pushing for an infusion of $18 million to siphon off diners from local businesses.

Every time they raise the number $18 million, keep repeating the numbers that really matter: At the South Boston facility, 800,000 room nights promised and 202,000 delivered.