In a flurry of commercial real estate news as last week ended, one government entity made a notable wise call.

The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority decided to effectively cancel a request for proposals process for 6.5 acres of land next to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.

Ordinarily, we would think twice before cheering something that killed potentially good projects – in this case, a 1.6 million-square-foot Cronin Development proposal and a rival 1.1 million-square-foot Boston Global Investors proposal – but this process was fundamentally flawed.

A quick recap: the MCCA bought up the 6.5 acres on D and E streets in South Boston a decade ago when it developed the BCEC. While the convention center was never supposed to expand there, the land was instead envisioned as a home for uses, like hotels and entertainment, that any top-tier meeting venue needs to be successful.

Instead, under its former executive director, the MCCA sought to turn the parcels into a cash cow – both BGI and Cronin proposals contained significant lab space, the hot commodity when the RFP was first issued mid-pandemic.

And it seems like Cronin may have gotten a helping hand from MCCA staff. Interim Executive Director Gloria Larson said a review by an outside law firm found authority workers shared seemingly important documents with the Cronin team and not BGI.

Good Reasons to Cancel RFP

That alone is reason enough to cancel the RFP and rebid the land, incorporating changes in the local economy since the process first kicked off. Inevitably, things like this will come to light, and no governmental entity should tolerate the whiff of corruption.

But that’s not the only reason.

The points raised by the first official to try and throw a stick in the RFP’s spokes, state Sen. Nick Collins, deserve repeating: There’s a troubling discontinuity between the reasoning the MCCA used to take the land by eminent domain and the milk-it-for-money thesis behind the RFP.

Eminent domain is not a tool that can be used willy-nilly. Yes, any government that gets in the habit of frequently taking private land is abusing its power. But Collins’ and others’ somewhat hyperbolic rhetoric aside, the more important point is that the MCCA’s original bait-and-switch was damaging to public trust. Too much of that and the eminent domain tool – vital to so many socially important projects across state and city government – gets blunted.

Boston’s Too Expensive

And stepping away from the land of principle, it’s clear the MCCA was making a bad strategic move by looking for the highest-paying rents.

When was the last time you or a friend tried to stay in a Boston hotel? According to statistics from local hospitality consultancy Pinnacle Advisory Group, the average daily rate for a room in the urban core was $292.06 last year. And that’s if you could find a room at all during major events in the city.

The MCCA board heard similar concerns in January from Milt Herbert, executive director of its Boston Convention Marketing Center. By Herbert’s estimation, the city is a bit over 4,000 hotel rooms near the BCEC short of what it needs to accommodate big conventions.

And thanks to flawed transit choices made when building out the Seaport District – here’s looking at you, Silver Line – people forced to stay in other hotel hot spots like Back Bay have a hard time getting to the BCEC for their events.

Plainly, this and our outsized nightly room rates put Boston at a serious competitive disadvantage versus other major convention destinations like San Diego and Houston, but that high cost of a hotel room also hurts our economy by suppressing ordinary tourism.

The MCCA has a chance to make a dent in this problem by developing more hotels on these D Street and E Street parcels, and perhaps some nearby housing priced for the workers who’ll run them.

More development opportunities on MCCA-owned land will come soon enough, but officials should make sure they’re tuned to the region’s real economic needs.

Letters to the editor responding to this editorial or other topics may be submitted via email at with the subject line “Letter to the Editor.” Submission is not a guarantee of publication. 

MCCA Made the Right Call

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 3 min