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Gov. Baker considers new use for 'basically dark' Hynes Convention Center

After his first proposal to sell the property failed to gain traction with lawmakers, Gov. Charlie Baker is gearing up for another push to reconsider the future of the Hynes Convention Center in Boston's Back Bay.

Baker hinted Wednesday that he is eyeing legislation that might feature "some thoughts on how to think about a reuse" of the aging convention center, which he proposed to sell in 2019. This time around, the COVID-19 pandemic's lingering impacts on downtown activity and in-person work could play a major role.

"Those things are changing, and they're not going to go back to the way they were," Baker said at an event in Cambridge to announce a new workforce grant program. "We are all going to have to think about what that means about how we create foot traffic, how we create vitality, how we create vibrancy in downtowns, and right now, we have a big empty space with millions and millions of square feet and not much goes on there and it's in a part of the city that is very quiet. One of the things we would like to engage the Legislature on is how to make that space active and vibrant and what that looks like."

The governor did not say exactly what vehicle he would use to reignite debate about the Hynes, suggesting that his office will likely pursue an economic development bill and potentially another American Rescue Plan Act spending bill that would include "significant resources proposed to help communities deal with their downtowns, significant resources to help people deal with the massive housing issues we have here in the commonwealth, and along with that, potentially, some thoughts on how to think about a reuse of that site."

"Nobody's going to lose their job," Baker, who delivered his final State of the Commonwealth address from the Hynes in January, said. "There's a ton of opportunity at the BCEC in South Boston. But right now we have a big space there in the middle of an important neighborhood. It's basically dark almost all the time."

Baker in late 2019 pursued legislation that would authorize the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority to sell the Hynes and use the proceeds to fund an expansion of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. The plan ran into roadblocks as neighborhood groups said they had been left out of the process and lawmakers questioned if the sale of one facility should be linked to the other's growth. By the end of the two-year session, both the House and Senate spiked bills authorizing the Hynes sale and BCEC expansion by ordering them to dead-end studies.

The state used the Hynes as a mass vaccination site during the 2021 campaign to get COVID-19 shots into arms.

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