MCCA officials are aggressively pursuing meeting business at the Hynes Convention Center in Back Bay after years of disruption from COVID and discussions about the potential sale of the property. Photo by James Sanna | Banker & Tradesman Staff

Dismissed as an obsolete money pit by former Gov. Charlie Baker, the revived Hynes Convention Center is forging new relationships with Back Bay hotel owners to ensure future meeting attendees can find convenient lodgings.

The dilemma for MCCA officials: The Hynes is losing a major provider of room blocks with the pending conversion of the Sheraton Boston’s south tower into Northeastern University dorms.

Enter citizenM, set to open its second Boston location in late July at 408 Newbury St. as part of the Samuels & Assoc. air rights project. The Dutch hotel chain is bringing 399 of its tech-infused suites to the neighborhood, and looks to the Hynes’ meeting schedule as a key source of demand while conventional business travel struggles to return to pre-pandemic levels.

“Where there is upside is the group and conventions arena,” said Ernest Lee, chief commercial officer at citizenM. “There seems to be a much more earnest approach to generate bookings and events at the Hynes and the convention center in the Seaport.”

When fully booked, the Hynes can generate 235,000 hotel room night reservations a year, said Milton Herbert, executive director of the Boston Convention Marketing Center. The year’s top event, Anime Boston, attracted approximately 10,000 visitors in early spring.

The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority relies heavily on negotiating room blocks reserved at nearby hotels including the Sheraton, Boston Marriott Copley Place and Westin Copley Place to ensure that trade shows have sufficient hotel capacity. The citizenM is the only major new hotel project scheduled for completion in Boston in the near future, as rising construction costs and interest rates have delayed groundbreakings.

And Hawkins Way Capital, owners of the Sheraton, received approval in January to permanently convert the South Tower into Northeastern dorms, permanently removing 428 hotel rooms from the Back Bay inventory.

“Hotel development in Boston has not been robust for the last 20 years, for the most part,” Herbert said. “We have had face-to-face meetings with the citizenM organization and they seem to be on board helping us and themselves as to room aggregation.”

Executives at the Dutch hotel chain citizenM are counting on business travel connected to meetings at the nearby Hynes Convention Center to generate a steady source of reservations now that plans to sell the Back Bay meeting hall have been put on hold. Image courtesy of citizenM

Study Could Clarify Hynes’ Future

The fits-and-starts tied to the politics of proposals to sell the Hynes property disrupted the MCCA’s typical long-term efforts to book meeting business. The agency paused bookings in 2019 after Baker’s first announcement. Then COVID forced a shutdown of in-person events for the bulk of 2020 and 2021.

After the state legislature passed on a second proposal to offer the property for redevelopment in 2022, the MCCA resumed booking events for the next eight years. The MCCA is proposing an $8-million marketing budget for fiscal 2025, approximately a 6-percent increase, subject to approval at the board’s June meeting.

The property also needs to address deferred maintenance before it can operate at capacity. The MCCA plans $30 million in capital improvements over the next four years.

The first phase begins in June, when HVAC and electrical infrastructure will be replaced. Other full and partial closures will take place during low demand periods, Herbert said.

Gary Saunders, chairman of Boston-based Saunders Hotel Group, said the pause in Hynes bookings prior to 2022 created “a huge amount of uncertainty” among meeting planners and industry organizations.

“We’re looking forward to the capital improvements that are going to impact the coming five years,” said Saunders, whose company is a partner in the Raffles Boston development and owns the Lenox Hotel.

The Hynes property’s long-term future will reflect a leadership transition at the MCCA. Following new appointees to the agency’s board of directors by Gov. Maura Healey, Executive Director David Gibbons resigned in November.

Interim Director Gloria Larson announced plans for a comprehensive study of the agency’s real estate, including the Hynes and a pair of development parcels near the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in South Boston that could be designated for hotels or other types of projects.

Steve Adams

citizenM Offers a Value Proposition

Dutch hotel chain citizenM committed to its second Boston location at a Back Bay development site one block away from the Hynes in 2019. The company opened its first Boston location earlier in 2019 at The Hub on Causeway, and Boston has been one of the strongest of its 31 global locations because of its diversified demand drivers including the life science industry and local universities, said Lee, the chief commercial officer.

With its one-size-fits-all approach to room sizes averaging 160 feet, citizenM targets budget-conscious travelers. Like its North Station counterpart, citizenM Back Bay locates its lobby on an upper floor containing food and beverage services, but it also adds a rooftop bar overlooking the Massachusetts Turnpike.

“Where our value proposition makes the most sense is the neighborhoods that have a lot of nice high-quality but expensive hotels, where we can offer a comparable experience but at a lower price point,” Lee said.

Hynes Revival Shuffles Back Bay Hotel Scene

by Steve Adams time to read: 3 min