More Drapes? Enough with the drapes!

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Sometimes smart people cannot learn. We are smart people in Massachusetts. We all know that.

Jim Rooney, executive director of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, is a smart and also capable guy. And he’s done a great job with the bad hand he was dealt. We have two convention centers and the market isn’t big enough to fill them. Jim R’s worked hard to fill the convention centers with events, any events, including meetings of law firms and boat and flower shows. There are some big shows, but still far too many events where people drive in and out of town, leaving in their wake not enough spending and too much traffic.

Room nights is the coin of the realm for understanding whether these behemoths are generating better value for the economy than alternative uses (housing, retail or commercial space, etc.). And a brief look at the MCCA’s 2006 annual report will tell you that the number of room nights associated with South Boston facility events (202,000) is a small fraction of the project’s original projections.

But the MCCA has been pushing the view in the media that the convention centers are a success. That push has been for a reason, as Bruce Mohl’s article in the Globe on Saturday made clear. The MCCA has been prepping the ground for approval of a proposal to spend $18 million on an upgrade to the Hynes.

Mohl highlights the $8 million to add retail space (restaurants), but there are the dreaded drapes:
“The renovation, expected to cost $10 million, will replace the building’s carpeting and drapes and update the existing public safety, energy, and technology systems.”

Though Jim R calls this “noncontroversial,” there are several problems with all of this.

First, the idea of expanding the Hynes’ space stems from the recommendations in the December 2006 special state commission report? Well, okay. But all anyone ever saw of the report was the recommendations. Uh, guys, where’s the report? What’s the methodology? Hate to ask Pioneer kinds of questions, but..

Second, while improving access to the new proposed restaurant spaces is great, essentially Jim R is looking to get people who are shopping and eating in the area to come into the convention space to spend their money. Great thought, but the Hynes’ whole justification is that it should generate new business and get people to stay over night and spend their money in surrounding businesses.

This may help the MCCA stop losing money on the Hynes ($2.5 million a year), but it misses the point that much more imaginative things could be done with the Hynes.

Finally, there’s the question of upgrading the cell phones and installing some restaurants. I mean, I like restaurants and I like cell phones. I just don’t like them together.

Maybe we should just put more Boylston Street bars in there. Here’s to hoping that the construction dust doesn’t ruin the drapes!