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Proposal to allow more hotels around Boston Convention Center draws concerns from Fort Point residents

Posted by Patrick Rosso  June 21, 2012 02:22 PM

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A pending measure in the state Legislature that would lift a prohibition on the construction of hotels near the convention center is drawing concern from residents of the Fort Point Channel neighborhood.

Proponents of the bill, written by Senator Jack Hart of South Boston and attached to the Senate’s budget bill, say it would allow much needed rooms near the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. The state Convention Center Authority says the lack of rooms is hurting business.

But Fort Point residents say that they want a neighborhood, not rows of tall hotels.

On Wednesday, residents from Fort Point area and surrounding neighborhoods filled a meeting room in the Channel Center to discuss the measure and what it means to their neighborhood.

“Whatever we do, whatever we propose, we want people to feel we did it the right way,” said Jim Rooney, executive director of the MCCA.

The measure would allow the MCCA and its partners to construct no more than 2,700 rooms in seven hotels, one of which being a much larger “headquarters hotel” and the other six being “mid-priced.” The restrictions would also require that every hotel must have a contract with the MCCA.

With the added rooms, Rooney said, the convention center would be better equipped to compete with other convention centers and cities and bring more conventions to the Waterfront.

According to the MCCA, the BCEC needs 4,000 rooms in close proximity to accommodate conventions. Currently there are 1,700 rooms close to the BCEC.

“At this point we’re turning business away because we don’t have the hotel capacity on the waterfront,” said Rooney.

But many of the 25 or so residents who turned out for the meeting were cool to the prospect of additional hotels.

“I can see the use for the hotel, but what are the residents giving up?” said Larry Kaiser, a Fort Point resident. “What can be built in their [hotels] place that can benefit the residents and no out-of-towners? You don’t want to end up with no space for the residents.”

Many in attendance said they are most concerned about the area loosing residents and becoming a desolate, transient neighborhood.

“One of the things we are trying to do is grow a neighborhood,” said Valerie Burns, a Fort Point resident. “I think that’s an aspect I don’t see recognized in this planning.”

Rooney, however, was quick to defend his position, saying the lifting of the restrictions doesn’t mean that hotels will be built tomorrow. The MCCA doesn’t own any of the land, and must complete the normal neighborhood and city review process.

Plans may still be preliminary, but Rooney mentioned two sites his group has been eying for the “headquarters hotel”.

The first site, were the US Post Office currently operates, is located along the South Boston Bypass Road and Summer Street.

Mention of the site caused a stir among residents, who worried about a hotel creeping into their neighborhood, the type of shadows that could be generated, and its place in the neighborhood’s 100 Acre Master Plan, which doesn’t bar hotels from the area but was created to guide development that is beneficial to the residents and the creation of a neighborhood in general. The 100 Acre Master Plan, however only covers the eastern portion of the neighborhood and not all of the BCEC’s prohibition zone.

The other site highlighted Rooney is currently used by Massport and located to the south-east of the BCEC. That site was better received by the group, but many still worried about the future of their neighborhood staying a neighborhood.

“We really do care about this neighborhood but we feel a little beaten down by other things that have happened,” said Alicia Casilio, a Channel Center resident referring to a development recently approved by the Boston Redevelopment Authority for Channel Center. “I’d love to trust that everything will work out but I’d like to see a better vision.”

Many in the audience said while they are nervous to support any new non-residential construction in the neighborhood, it would be easier for them to get behind the proposal if a “Master Plan” was developed for the prohibition zone to help guide development and provide protections for the current and future residents.

Although many expressed that they felt rushed by the MCCA’s proposal, the legislative session ends July 31, Hart said he will make sure to bring the residents’ concerns to the table.

“Nothing can happen without my approval,” said Hart. “It has to be a legislative change and we’re not going to do something unless the neighborhood agrees with it.”

Email Patrick D. Rosso, Follow him @PDRosso, or friend him on Facebook.

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