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BRA backs midpriced hotel near convention hall

Not resolved is whether workers will be unionized

The hotel would use an oddly shaped site on Congress Street near the South Boston convention center. (GROUP ONE PARTNERS INC.)

The Boston Redevelopment Authority yesterday gave the go-ahead for a 502-room, midpriced hotel on the South Boston Waterfront, a frontier where luxury has reigned virtually unchallenged in the early days of the area's development.

The authority said yes even though the developer, Madison Properties LLC, remains in negotiations with the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union, Local 26, over whether the union can use a simplified procedure to win the right to represent hotel workers and avoid a full-blown election.

One sticking point is that Madison has not selected a hotel operator.

The project had been on the BRA board's to-do list for several months, but had not been voted on because of objections from the hotel workers union, said city officials and a real estate executive briefed on the situation who asked not to be identified.

The BRA's spokeswoman, Jessica Shumaker, said Madison Properties has met all city requirements.

"The timeline is up," she said, "and we can't hold them back any longer."

The developer will be required to come back for final approval after a hotel operator is selected, a move Shumaker acknowledged is unusual.

Janice Loux, president of Local 26, said she is negotiating with Denis P. Dowdle, president of Madison Properties, and is "cautiously optimistic" she'll reach agreement with the eventual operator.

"Denis is a decent guy, and he wants to introduce me to an operator who hasn't been selected yet," said Loux. She said she did not think that yesterday's BRA approval would reduce her leverage in the campaign to unionize the hotel.

Dowdle said he hopes to select an operator in about 60 days and start construction by the end of the year.

The architect is Group One Partners Inc. of Boston.

With a striking design, the sleek glass and masonry building will actually be two hotels in one, with modestly priced limited-service and extended-stay rooms sharing floors 7 through 24, and separate lobbies and access on floors 6 and 7.

It will be built on a small plot on Congress Street known as the sausage parcel.

Dowdle said having two types of rooms will mean getting more value out of the small piece of land -- it's just 30,000 square feet -- near the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. The room types are also expected to appeal to customers with average-size pocketbooks.

"This is the front end of a trend," Dowdle said recently. "To have this type of product this close to the convention center is critical."

All of the rooms will probably be operated by one hotel company that has multiple brands. For example, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., Hyatt Corp., Hilton Hospitality Inc., and Marriott International Inc. all have both limited-service and extended-stay brands.

The narrow, curved construction site adjoins a huge Big Dig ventilation building on Summer Street; it would hide that structure from the view of many residents and workers in upscale developments planned for the nearby Fan Pier and in buildings slated for 22 acres owned by developer John B. Hynes III on Seaport Boulevard.

Thomas C. Palmer Jr. can be reached at