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BOSTON-While members of the city council here grow increasingly concerned over the viability of the convention center being built on the waterfront in South Boston, the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority insists that the financial outlook for the project is sound.

A hastily called meeting between the city council, members of the Boston Redevelopment Authority and representatives of the MCCA was convened recently in which city council members noted that the city’s plunging hotel occupancy rate could have serious implications for the convention center. But Andy Antrobus, spokesperson for the MCCA, tells GlobeSt.com that “we can’t predict the short-term economic future but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t plan for the long-term economic future.” Antrobus notes that the center is to be completed in 2004, which gives the city time to recoup from its recent economic struggle.

But a spokeswoman for council member Peggy Davis Mullen tells GlobeSt.com that Davis-Mullen “does not think the center is feasible. She has been saying for a while that this center is way overboard moneywise and is burden on taxpayers.”

Antrobus points out that this issue was debated and settled already in the state legislature when they authorized the funds for the center in 1997. “We feel the right decision was made and we intend for this to be an enormous economic engine for the city for decades to come,” he says.

One ongoing problem for the project is the convention center hotel being developed by Starwood Hotel & Resorts Worldwide. The company has yet to come up with the financing for the project and in a recent conference call with Wall Street analysts, the company said that all projects over $3 million will be deferred, delayed or pulled. The company did not specify which projects it was referring. “We don’t know what this means for the hotel here but we are engaged in a listening session,” notes Antrobus, who adds that two MCCA representatives are currently meeting with Starwood to find out the status of the project. “As of today, we still have partners. We still feel we have a deal,” he says.

But sources close to the project tells GlobeSt.com that Starwood will most likely ask for tax-free financing and property tax relief for the project to go ahead. This essentially amounts to a public subsidy and it is unclear it the Authority will be able to guarantee that, especially in light of the initial agreement with the company. “They have to be very cognizant of the public bidding process,” notes the source, who points out that the Authority does not want to be open to a lawsuit from bidders who lost out on the project to Starwood.

Nevertheless, Antrobus is optimistic. “We will proceed ahead with construction of the convention center with the assumption that there will be a hotel near it,” he says.

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