Boston Convention and Exhibition Center Expansion

Tomorrow, the Senate will vote on S2188, An Act relative to the expansion of the Boston Convention and Exhibition CenterA similar bill passed the house 131-19.  There has been quite a bit of news coverage about this bill, which I have compiled below along with other resources and reports.  What do you think?  Is this expansion a good use of state funds?

Recent News Clips:

Boston Herald 6/9/2014: New convention center math

Boston Globe 6/7/2014: Convention center funding cut over concerns of deal

Boston Globe 6/4/2014: For a vibrant waterfront, hold the big box

Boston Globe 6/4/2014: A ‘classic sweetheart deal’

Boston Herald 5/29/2014: House approves $1.1b boondoggle

Boston Globe 5/28/2014: Mass. House approves $1.1b convention center expansion


Audited financial report of the MCCA

Website of the campaign to make Boston a top 5 convention destination

Report from Convention Partnership, recommending expansion


Mike Widmer of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation:

“Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation president Michael Widmer said he sees the MCCA as “another piece of our overall economic future in the state.” But while it’s “made the case” for the expansion, there still will be liabilities, he said. “Even with hotel expansions, we won’t have an adequate number of hotel rooms in the immediate vicinity (of the BCEC), so we’ll still be behind many cities in that respect,” Widmer said. “And some of the projections about future conventions that would come to Boston are un¬certain.”

“The overarching question is how are the taxpayers of Massachusetts going to pay for it? It’s a question of cost and benefit,” says Widmer. “The expansion of the Convention Center is undoubtedly a good thing and would allow conventions to come here that otherwise wouldn’t. But then, at what cost?” Widmer points out that money is also needed elsewhere. “It’s not as if we are flush … that we, the state budget is flush … with cash and there are no other competing interests,” says Widmer. “For example is it better to invest in a convention center authority or to invest in the MBTA and public transportation, or improving our roads and bridges across the state?”

For city and state officials, the issue really boils down to what economists call opportunity costs: Choosing Project X means forgoing the benefits from spending the same money on Project Y. In this case, are hotel subsidies and convention center expansion the best (or even a good) use of sparse public dollars? “Much of the argument to date has been that if the BCEC has been a success, as it has been, then trust us with Phase II,’’ said Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation President Michael Widmer, one of three “no’’ votes on the 27-member MCCA panel that endorsed expansion. “But that ignores the reality that there are many competing economic investments for the limited tax dollars available. An expansion has to stand on its own merit, not just past performance.’’ A true cost-benefit doesn’t look at only the benefits.

Pioneer Institute commentary:

“But two things are indisputable: The expansion would not, as the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority (MCCA) claims, pay for itself, and the convention industry is one that remains mired in decline.”

3/11/2014: Pioneer Institute Report: Does Boston Convention & Exhibition Center really pay for itself?

6/9/2011: Chasing Room Nights

1/28/2010: Answer This Before You Expand the Convention Center

7/17/2007: The new math of convention center madness


Andrew Bettinelli
Legislative Aide
Office of State Senator William N. Brownsberger