Answer This Before You Expand the Convention Center

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The Convention Center Authority has convened a panel of Boston’s great and the good to examine the prospects for expanding the BCEC.

That group is tasked to expand upon a consultant’s report that leaves a lot of big questions unanswered. I’m hopeful that at least some of the group (Hi Sam! Hi Mike!) takes it upon themselves to ask some hard questions.

These might include:

1) What is a realistic assessment of the number of conventions that the BCEC misses out on solely because of facility size? The formal presentation to group suggests that the number is in the hundreds (see last slide here), but in a separate presentation (slide 18 here), the number appears to be closer to 70 (per year?).

2) Out of that number, how many can we realistically compete for and win?

3) What’s the marginal gain in attendees and room nights over the typical convention that we could book currently?

4) Is the value of that marginal gain (direct and indirect) worth the borrowing that will be required to enlarge the facility?

5) To support an enlarged convention center, what type of private follow-on investment (in proximate hotel space) would be needed? What is the current track record in realizing that level of investment?

And now the critical part,

5) What is potential value of that borrowing applied elsewhere — be it spent on another project or , gasp, left in the hands of taxpayers? Spending upwards of a billion dollars is going to produce something of value, regardless of what you do with it. Is the investment in BCEC the best possible use?

The tax regime that funds the Convention Center Authority was sold as falling on out-of-towners. So why do I pay more for meals, duck tours, and car rentals? And why does the Convention Center Authority keep giving cash (upwards of $60 million in the past three years) to the state from its supposedly ring-fenced funds?

I hope the Convention Partnership takes their job seriously and rigorously vets any additional spending on the BCEC.