Plans for a greatly expanded Boston Convention and Exhibition Center are moving forward for the first time in more than two years.
The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, which owns and operates the BCEC and the sprawling 40 acres of land the building currently sits on, issued a request for proposal on Wednesday for master planning and feasibility services for the project.
According to David Gibbons, executive director of the MCCA, the planning and feasibility services will examine what should be built as part of the expansion, how much that might cost and then of course how to finance it.
“Going forward, as the world gets flatter and smaller, we are in an international competitive market. We are not just competing with Washington and Chicago, but also Barcelona and Singapore and other international cities,” Gibbons told Banker & Tradesman. “People continue to predict the demise of the meetings industry because of social media, but that is far from true. Meetings have just changed and we need to make sure we have a platform to attract popular events.”
Since completion of the original building in 2004, the BCEC has been one of the largest convention centers in the Northeast.
It boasts 516,000 square feet of contiguous exhibition space, 160,000 square feet of meeting space in 80 meeting rooms, a 40,000-square-foot ballroom, 62 loading docks, 1.25 miles of internal roadway and 2,000 parking spaces. The campus totals 70 acres.
Efforts to expand the BCEC have existed since 2008 and eventually resulted in a final report from The Massachusetts Convention Center Partnership in 2011.
At an estimated cost of $1 billion, the report proposed a 1.3 million square foot expansion, the addition of approximately 75,000 square feet of ballroom space and the construction of 335,000 square feet exhibit hall space.
It also proposed increases in meeting rooms, pre-function, registration spaces, kitchens and back-of-house support, outdoor event space, truck marshaling areas, and the design and construction of two new parking garages.
Additionally, the report found there was an acute lack of hotel rooms within a half-mile of the BCEC and called for the need of a BCEC Headquarters Hotel.
Although a lot has changed in the Seaport since the 2011 report was published, MCAC officials said the need for additional hotel rooms near the BCEC was greatly needed to support future campus growth, and reduce the BCEC’s dependence on Back Bay hotels by creating dedicated inventory for the Hynes Convention Center.
New hotels would also add sufficient South Boston hotel inventory to allow for concurrent events at the BCEC and Hynes Convention Center, according to the RFP.
But this fear was quelled on April 13, 2017, when Massport announced that Omni Hotels and Resorts had been selected to develop a 1,054-room hotel on its D2 Parcel on Summer Street, directly across from the BCEC.
This, according to Gibbons, paved the way for the continuation of the BCEC project after stalling in 2015 due to the new administration brought on when now Gov. Charlie Baker took office.
“Omni fills the need for a headquarters hotel,” Gibbons said. “We think the next priority is meeting space.”
The goal of the RFP is to outline a building program that is financially self-sufficient and maximizes the MCCA’s competitive advantage in a rapidly evolving global convention and meeting marketplace, while continuing to showcase Boston’s status as a world class city.
The goal of the planning is also to connect the building into the host South Boston neighborhood, the Fort Point Neighborhood and South Boston Waterfront.
The RFP goes out today and will be bid on Aug. 15. The MCCA Designer Selection Panel will provide questions to applicants on Aug. 21, with final bids being turned in on Sept. 20.
A decision on which plan to go with is expected in the first quarter of 2018.