by Morton D. Rosenbaum | April 01, 2004

At last: A new convetnion center
nears completion in Boston

The Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, long in the works and set to open in June 2004, will finally get an equally long-awaited headquarters hotel. Last month, center developers announced they had secured a $120 million construction loan for what will be a 790-room Westin.
    Phase one of the new property has already broken ground and is expected to open as early as summer 2006. A second phase, to  include an additional 330 rooms, is set to follow.
    The loan could not have been more timely. The BCEC was nearing its March 2004 financing deadline, the final of several extensions granted by the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, when the good news arrived. Many consider it a turning point for the $800 million center, which so far has suffered from lackluster bookings, blamed by some on a dearth of guest rooms in the area.
    Indeed, the absence of a headquarters hotel was an issue when Hank Roeder, senior director of the Virginia-based National Business Travel Association, was considering the venue in 2002 for the group’s 2007 convention. He eventually signed on, but only with a stipulation that the NBTA could be assured a headquarters hotel.
    “Thankfully, the financial issue surrounding the Westin was resolved,” said Roeder. “Had Boston not been able to promise us a hotel, we would have had to look elsewhere.”
    For its part, the BCEC maintains that the uncertain state of the Westin had little or no effect on potential bookings. “The absence of a headquarters hotel isn’t going to matter much to a professional meeting planner,” said Milt Herbert, executive director of marketing for the center. He cited New York’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center as a venue thriving without an adjacent hotel. 
    Nevertheless, with a hotel in the works, insiders anticipate fresh interest in the convention facility, with its 516,000 square feet of contiguous meeting space.
    Mayor Thomas M. Menino announced in March that the center will host TechEd 2006, Microsoft Corp.’s largest annual convention, in time to make use of the newly opened Westin. With a projected attendance of 10,000, it will be the third largest event the convention center has booked so far.