The Boston Convention & Exhibition Center will host its first big event since the COVID-19 pandemic wiped the facility’s slate clean a year ago, by drawing thousands of people to the South Boston complex in May for a youth volleyball competition.
The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority said state health secretary Marylou Sudders approved the event’s safety plan on Friday. The MCCA is getting around the strict pandemic-related limits on indoor events — the state now limits indoor meetings to 100 people, while the city of Boston goes further with a 60-person cap — because this one is being treated as a sporting event in a large-capacity venue. The new rules for venues that can accommodate 5,000-plus people allow for up to 12 percent of their regular occupancy limits. It’s under these rules, which took effect on Monday, that TD Garden and Fenway Park are opening up for sports fans.
The MCCA said the New England Regional Volleyball Association event on May 21 through May 23, called the Mizuno Boston Volleyball Festival and run by JVC Tournaments, will translate to an estimated 8,500 hotel room nights in the city.
“People around here, including myself, are giddy today,” said David Gibbons, the executive director of the convention center authority. “We’ve had 14 months of depression, just bad news.”
At no point during the day will attendance exceed 4,000 people, or 9 percent of the convention center’s capacity, according to a document submitted to Sudders’ office. That letter also says the flow of events will be coordinated to ensure a minimum of six feet of distance between spectators, there will be no food service on site, and everyone in the building, including the teenage athletes, will wear masks.
The annual volleyball competition was the last event at the BCEC before everything shut down in March 2020, according to a convention center spokesman. It took place on March 7 and 8 last year. The Seafood Expo North America was on deck at the time, but was cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns.
The MCCA has a few events scheduled for June and July of this year at its Boston facilities, which also include the Hynes Convention Center. But for those to go forward, Gibbons said he’ll need the Baker administration to increase capacity levels for indoor meetings. Both convention centers have been largely empty, though the BCEC was used as a field hospital last year and the Hynes is now a COVID-19 vaccination site. The MCCA has also found ancillary uses: Berklee College of Music rents part of the Hynes, for example, and the BCEC has hosted civil service exams for the Boston Police Department.