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BOSTON-The criticism of a local conservative think tank has led local hotel and tourism officials to commission a study determining the economic feasibility of the proposed new convention center here in South Boston. The Massachusetts Lodging Association and the Greater Boston Convention Center Bureau have selected PricewaterhouseCoopers to determine whether a market still exists to support the planned $80- million taxpayer-financed facility.

The Pioneer Institute has been a vocal critic of the center, contending that the market for convention centers is declining nationwide and a slowing economy will further impact the future of the center. “In a landscape that is littered with failed convention centers, I could count on one hand the number of successful centers,” Charles Chieppo of the Pioneer Institute tells GlobeSt.com. Despite that, Chieppo contends, “There has never been a single study that has said, don’t build it. The market is undeniable shrinking yet they have never come out with a report that says anything but build it.”

According to Chieppo, Pricewaterhouse does many convention center studies and tends to give the commissioning entity the results it wants. “You can’t look at these reports in isolation,” notes Chieppo. “They are very lucrative.” ProicewaterhouseCoopers is receiving $120,000 for this study.

Art Canter, head of the Massachusetts Lodging Association, did not return calls by presstime but he is quoted as saying that hotel executives are interested in getting an accurate picture of the potential success of the center.

Chieppo insists that while there is no way the center can be successful, the report will recommend that publicly financed hotels need to be in place around the center. The 1,120-room convention center hotel, which is crucial to the success of the center, has had difficulty nailing down its financing. “Financial markets are not willing to finance convention center hotels,” points out Chieppo. “They are trying to pave the way for additional subsidies.”

Chieppo had pushed for a pair of academics, Charles Euchner, of Harvard University and Andrew Zimbalist, of Smith College in Northampton, to conduct the study. The two were among the four finalists to conduct the convention center review. Chieppo says that it is only these two disinterested academics who would come to a different conclusion other than build. Chieppo insists that it is possible to turn back now and not continue with the convention center project. But the problem is the center review is due in September; the steel is set to go in this July. “It’s not a done deal yet,” says Chieppo. “After the steel goes in its still not a done deal but it is more difficult to turn back.”

Chieppo concedes that in all likelihood no one is turning back now. “We are seeing historic shrinkage in hotel occupancy rates,” he says. “The slowing economy hasn’t even kicked in yet. It’s possible to stop this now but I don’t think they will. But I do think it’s a big mistake to build it.”

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