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BOSTON- The board of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority has appointed a committee to look at the feasibility of selling the Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center, in view of the development of the new Boston Convention & Exhibition Center on the South Boston waterfront and its difficulties getting bookings.

The wisdom of building the new 516,000-sf, $850-million center, which has only 11 definite bookings for the next 10 years, has been a subject of debate amongst local politicians and activist groups for a several years. Recently a number of gubernatorial candidates–specifically Republican candidate Mitt Romney and Democratic candidate Robert Reich–have publicly stated that if they were elected they would sell the Hynes.

“You have to remember how all this started,” Pat Moscaritolo, executive director of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau tells globeSt.com. “Romney made a proposal that basically said if I were elected governor I would sell the Hynes.”

But Andy Antrobus, spokesperson for the MCCA, points out that House Speaker Thomas M. Finerran and a number of other legislators have been speaking about selling the Hynes for years. He points to a number of bills that have been put forth recommending the sale. “The issue weighed heavily on board members,” he says. “[Gloria] Larson, [chairwoman of the MCCA], formally put together the commission to look at the Hynes once the new center is open. This is not directly in response to what the candidates have been saying. We’ve been thinking about this for a while.”

The 1997 legislation spearheading the development of the new center specifically states that it cannot “cannibalize” the Hynes, Antrobus points out, and so a sale would necessitate additional legislation.

“The problem is,” says Moscaritolo, “that the Hynes generates $340 million in spending revenues from attendees. Meeting planners love the Hynes, if their exhibit can fit in.” At 193,000-sf of space, the Hynes is significantly smaller than the new center but it is attached to three hotels, is close to a thriving retail and restaurant district in the Back Bay and us a mere 15-minute walk to Fenway Park. Moscaritolo contends that the new center, whose 1,120-room headquarters hotel still hasn’t nailed down financing, would cater to the larger trade shows and the Hynes would continue to focus on the meetings market.

The Hynes has 80 confirmed groups for the next 10 years with another 30 holding space on a tentative basis. But Moscaritolo says “every day we continue to get inquiries. There continues to be a lot of interest” in the center.

According to a document obtained by GlobeSt.com, the Hynes’ booking pace drops to 80% in 2004 and to 60% in 2005. By 2007 the pace drops to 40%. But the bookings as percentage of 2002 goals go up to 80.2% in 2005 and 77.2% two years later. An industry source tells GlobeSt.com that the center has under 50% occupancy for next year, which he attributes to the fact that three to four years ago when bookings were being made for 2003 at the Hynes, hotels wouldn’t give up room blocks. “They were filled with business travelers then so they figured binge now and pay later,” he tells GlobeSt.com.

The source points out that the Hynes is a unique, mature facility in a thriving section of the city. So, why the committee? “[The MCCA] is sick of being the target of everyone,” he says. “The convention centers are easy targets and they’re tired of it.”

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