After his first proposal to sell the property failed to gain traction with lawmakers, Gov. Charlie Baker is bracing for another push to reconsider the future of the Hynes Convention Center in Boston’s Back Bay.
Baker hinted Wednesday that he is considering legislation that could include “some thoughts on how to think about repurposing” the aging convention center, which he proposed to sell in 2019. This time around, the lingering impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on downtown activity and in-person work could play a major role.
“These things are changing and they’re not going to go back to how they were,” Baker said at an event in Cambridge to announce a new workforce grant scheme. “We’re all going to have to think about what that means about how we create foot traffic, how we create vitality, how we create vibrancy in inner cities, and right now we have a big empty space with millions and millions of square feet and there’s not a whole lot going on there and it’s in a part of town that’s very quiet One of the things we’d like to engage the legislature on is to know how to make this space active and dynamic and what it looks like.
The governor didn’t say exactly what vehicle he would use to reignite the Hynes debate, suggesting his office will likely pursue an economic development bill and potentially another American Rescue Plan spending bill. Act which would include “significant resources proposed to help communities deal with their town centres, significant resources to help people deal with the huge housing problems we have here in the Commonwealth, and alongside that potentially , some thoughts on how to think about a reuse of this site.”
“Nobody is going to lose their job,” said Baker, who gave his last State of the Commonwealth address since the Hynes in January. “There are a ton of opportunities at BCEC in South Boston. But right now we have a great space there in the middle of a major neighborhood. It’s basically dark most of the time.”
Baker in late 2019 pursued legislation that would authorize the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority to sell the Hynes and use the proceeds to fund an expansion of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. The plan ran into hurdles as neighborhood groups said they had been left out of the process and lawmakers debated whether the sale of one facility should be tied to the growth of the other. At the end of the two-year session, the House and Senate spiked bills authorizing the sale of Hynes and the expansion of BCEC by ordering them dead-end studies.
The state used the Hynes as a mass vaccination site during the 2021 campaign to get COVID-19 shots in the arms.