The Legislature is considering a controversial $1 billion expansion plan for the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in South Boston — a proposal that continues to divide the state. While supporters believe expansion is crucial to attracting larger events and bringing in tourism dollars, opponents say we’d be subsidizing a white elephant, and helping private developers at a time when the state has other pressing needs. Even though the expansion might be passed before the end of this legislative session, how the plan unfolds, or whether or not it enjoys continued support from Beacon Hill, could be determined in large part by the views of the Commonwealth’s next governor.
For our second question-and-answer session with the gubernatorial candidates, Globe Opinion asked whether they supported the convention center expansion. Answers ranged from skepticism of the plan’s ability to deliver economic growth (Jeff McCormick) to unbridled enthusiasm for the expansion (Donald Berwick, Steve Grossman). One (Mark Fisher) even suggested giving all the money back to the taxpayers to spend. Here are the candidates’ answers, in the order they were received.
Former health insurance executive, Republican
I have real concerns that the proposed BCEC expansion has not received the attention and analysis necessary to justify allocating $1 billion in taxpayer resources to a single project. As a matter of practice, I believe the state should develop strategies for economic development today and into the future, while applying rigorous scrutiny to each proposal to ensure taxpayers receive the maximum return on investment.
Small business owner, Republican
Attendance at convention events is down 30 percent. This is the wrong time to be expanding convention centers. More importantly, if private developers saw an opportunity to realize a profit they’d be jumping at it. Government sponsorship in this area is not a good use of taxpayer dollars. Let’s give money back to the tax payers and let them simulate the economy in the areas that they and free markets forces dictate.
Health care entrepreneur, Independent
Former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Democrat
The convention center in its current form has been a resounding success, generating millions for the Boston metro area and the Commonwealth and helping create jobs in local businesses. But in order to continue its economic vitality, we need to be able to meet what will undoubtedly be an increasing demand for this superb resource. The proposed expansion plan will not only encourage new business but also add to the economic and cultural fabric of the region. I support the expansion.
Venture Capitalist, Independent
While I understand that Boston will not be able to bid on certain conventions that will go to cities with larger facilities, it is far from certain that a $1 billion investment in the BCEC will generate enough economic activity to justify the expense. Simply being able to court some conventions is far different from securing enough business to rationalize the investment. Since we know we have neglected investments in infrastructure throughout the Commonwealth, from the Cape to the Berkshires, and that these investments are critical for many of these communities, this issue becomes a matter of priorities. Furthermore, we also know other types of investments, such as in early childhood education, have demonstrable returns to the individual students, their communities, and to the state, and thus need to be a priority.
Attorney General, Democrat
While the investment in the BCEC will help further strengthen our growing business and tourism climate in Boston, at the same time we need to make sure that other parts of the state benefit from that tourism and we are continuing to make the critical infrastructure investments necessary to keep every region of the state moving forward.
State Treasurer, Democrat
Expansion of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center will significantly boost tourism, spur economic growth, and create jobs. I strongly support the project, and like Governor Patrick and many of my colleagues in the Legislature, I look forward to seeing construction begin soon. Treasury has worked with the MCCA and the Legislature to ensure that the financing plan protects the taxpayers and their hard-earned resources. Massachusetts is an international tourist destination, and investing in 21st-century infrastructure is a proven model for growing our economy and marketing our Commonwealth as the center for some of the finest colleges, hospitals, and cultural sites in the world.