Vaccine news gives hope to decimated convention sector

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BOSTON (SHNS) – It has been months since the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center or MassMutual Center in Springfield have hosted the kinds of large-scale events they are designed for and make their money from, but officials at the Convention Center Authority are hoping to unveil proposed COVID-19 safety guidelines in January and will ask the Baker administration allow them to resume some events.

Shortly after it closed in March, part of the BCEC was transformed into Boston Hope, a 1,000-bed field hospital that served as flex capacity for Boston hospitals and treated homeless residents who became ill in April and May. But as hospitalizations rise amid this second surge of the coronavirus and the state re-establishes its field hospital in Worcester, Convention Center Authority Executive Director David Gibbons said there are no plans for the BCEC field hospital to be revived.

“At this moment in time, we are fairly certain that will not be the case, short of some really severe outcomes. But the capacity for hospitals here in metro Boston is such that it is believed we are OK on that. But we have a lot of customers who are very, very concerned about that,” he said. “For the moment, we are not going to be a hospital so I can put that to rest.”

Convention Marketing Center Executive Director Milton Herbert Jr. told the MCCA’s board on Thursday that business continues to be slow but “is starting to come back onto the radar screen.”

Gibbons said the MCCA has been working on its own safety protocols and guidelines for convention center events and plans to present those to the board of directors at its meeting in January in hopes of resuming some more typical events next year.

“Since our October meeting, the one key thing has been the announcement of a few vaccines and trials, and hopefully we’ll start showing some light at the end of the tunnel for all industries, but as you know hospitality and entertainment are the two hardest-hit industries,” he said. “Hopefully we will start planning back our rebound and as that happens we have been working on a lot of programs here and our team is working on protocols.”

Herbert said the MCCA will “request permission from the state to allow us to operate with some of those parameters and then at the end of the day it’s just what David talked about in terms of COVID-19 solutions. We need a solution for COVID-19.”

He said events that do take place at the BCEC or Hynes Convention Center will be smaller than usual because of restrictions on gathering sizes and travel.

Sean Dolan, the general manager of the MassMutual Center, told the MCCA board Thursday about a major 2021 event that has been booked for September at the Springfield arena: the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s 2021 enshrinement ceremony.

The basketball hall of fame is located right down the street in Springfield, but the induction ceremonies are typically held at the city’s 2,600-seat Symphony Hall. For the 2020 ceremony — which has been moved to May 2021 and features the induction of Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant — the hall of fame booked the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut.

Dolan did not say why the hall of fame sought out the MassMutual Center, which can seat more than 8,000 people in unrestricted times, for the event but the list of possible hall of fame entrants in 2021 offers a clue. Next year is the first that Boston Celtics legend Paul Pierce will be eligible for the hall of fame and will likely headline a class that could also include Chris Bosh, Shawn Marion and Chauncey Billups.

“This will mark the first time that the MassMutual center has hosted the nationally televised event and we’re excited to showcase the venue,” Gibbons said.

Dolan said the economic impact of having the enshrinement ceremony at the MassMutual Center is projected to be roughly $1.2 million and should result in the booking of about 800 hotel room nights.

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