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Hub’s halls are centers of attention

Bookings up 27 percent at the Hynes and Convention & Exhibition facilities

By Casey Ross
Globe Staff / January 8, 2011

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Boston’s convention halls experienced a surge in bookings in 2010, reflecting improving financial conditions across the economy.

The number of events booked for the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center and the Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center jumped to 85 in 2010, 27 percent more than the previous year and the largest number since 2006, according to the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, the public agency that operates the facilities.

The jump in activity is a sign that the economic recovery has persuaded representatives of various industries that it is safe to schedule high-profile and expensive business meetings. Among those booking shows in Boston last year were the Association of International Educators, which promises to bring more than 7,000 people to the city in 2015, and the Biotechnology Industry Association, which is expected to draw 26,000 attendees in 2018.

“This is a good sign for Boston’s performance in the industry,’’ said James Rooney, executive director of the convention center authority. “This keeps us in the top 10 cities for conventions in the country.’’

The centers booked 67 events in 2009, and only 47 events in 2008, as businesses slashed travel and related spending in the face of the economic slowdown.

But the recovering economy has improved conditions in recent months. Industry specialists said Boston has fared particularly well with organizations that have a significant international compo nent, such as BIO, that are drawn to Boston because of its heavy concentration of universities and pharmaceutical companies.

Several other large standard-bearers have also booked in Boston, including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which is planning a show for 2018, and the Association of Financial Professionals, which is coming to Boston in 2019.

“The meetings and convention industry is coming back in a big way,’’ said Pat Moscaritolo, chief executive of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau. “All major cities are seeing what we’re seeing.’’

Meanwhile Rooney, Moscaritolo, and other public officials and business leaders continue to examine the feasibility of possibly doubling the 520,000-square-foot Convention & Exhibition Center hall, at a cost of up to $1 billion. The group is slated to produce a report by April on its plans, which could also include adding a large hotel to the complex. Any expansion would need approvals from the City of Boston and the state Legislature.

Rooney said the Convention & Exhibition Center must expand to better host large events that now require attendees to be bused from distant hotels because of a lack of accommodations in the immediate area.

Skeptics point to data that they say show that the big Boston hall has failed to generate the economic activity promised when it was built in the early 2000s. A consultant at the time projected the exhibition hall would generate more than 650,000 hotel room stays a year, but it has averaged about 550,000 during the last two years.

Still, the convention center has continued to grow by many other measures, with overall attendance more than doubling to 540,000 a year between 2005 and 2009, according to the authority.

Casey Ross can be reached at cross@globe.com.