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New Omni Hotel Will Get BCEC ‘Past the Tipping Point,’ David Gibbons Says

Mass Convention Center Authority Executive Director Addresses MassEcon Members Meeting

WESTBOROUGH, MA – Massachusetts Convention Center Authority Executive Director David Gibbons told MassEcon members today that the Omni hotel now under construction, with 1,050 rooms, will get the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (BCEC) “past the tipping point” toward the estimated 3,500 nearby hotel rooms that were forecast as needed when the convention facility was planned in the 1990s.

About 2,000 rooms had been built toward that goal, but many of them were limited service hotels, which are not as helpful to convention center business as big groups work to book blocks of rooms several years ahead, Gibbons said. The new hotel is scheduled to open in 2021. Having enough hotel rooms within a nearby walk of the exhibition space is critical to the success of the venue, Gibbons reported.

Gibbons outlined an increasingly positive financial picture of the BCEC, which he said functions as an economic engine for the region’s hospitality industry and larger economy and has been statutorily allowed to run an operating deficit of up to $26 million a year. Gibbons, who has been executive director for two years after serving as general manager of hotels in Boston for more than two decades, said that deficit is being steadily reduced. “We are now approaching zero.”

“Our financial performance gives comfort to people on the Hill that we know what we’re doing and we’re not out wasting money,” Gibbons said. He addressed a breakfast meeting of MassEcon, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year as it works with public and private sectors to assist companies in locating or expanding in Massachusetts.

Asked about the recently announced proposal to help reduce Seaport transportation congestion with a gondola transportation system from South Station to the Boston Marine Industrial Park and eastern neighborhood of the South Boston Waterfront, Gibbons called it “intriguing… an interesting idea.”

Gibbons said the convention center authority has “a huge transportation profile” in managing several private transportation initiatives from North Station to the Seaport and is also involved in planned water transportation from the North Station area. “They have to go through a public process,” Gibbons said of Millennium Partners, which has Seaport plans for about two million square feet of development and has put forward the gondola concept. “There are some aesthetic issues. We are in need of solutions. The gondola may be one of them.”
Gibbons said the recent annual impact of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority amounts to a total of $775 million in economic activity, 336 events, 665,965 hotel room nights, and 732,587 attendees. The authority spends $115 million a year for operations and has 300 direct employees. It owns three facilities: the BCEC, the Hynes Memorial Convention Center in the Back Bay, and the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

The authority is embarking now on a $2 million study to determine future needs, what they will cost, and how to pay for them. Gibbons said the BCEC has been handicapped by having been scaled back from its original size in exhibition space and parking, as well as having only one large ballroom instead of two.

He said the current order of priorities is to see the Omni hotel, which is being developed with no public subsidy, finished, to add meeting space, and later to expand the BCEC’s 516,000 square feet of exhibition space.

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March 16, 2018