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A jazzier Hynes may boost city's convention trade

Boston is building a convention center to match its reputation as one of the the top tourist cities in the United States. When construction is completed in late 1987, the Hynes Auditorium at the Prudential Center will have become the Hynes Convention Center. It will be capable of hosting 90 percent of the meetings and conventions held by the nation's business groups and other organizations, says Robert Sheehan, deputy director of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority.

A $200 million construction program, for which Hynes will be closed for the next 21/2 years, will double the size of the present auditorium and enable it to accommodate 22,000 people in its auditoriums, meeting rooms, and exhibition halls.

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Mr. Sheehan notes that the National Direct Marketing Association has already reserved the ``new'' Hynes for a meeting of its some 8,000 members in 1989. He says they will find everything they need for their meeting as well as quality hotel rooms -- 5,000 of them ``in easy walking distance'' from the convention center. In compact Boston, the other 3,000 rooms will be only a short taxi, bus, or subway ride away.

Sheehan makes a strong case for Boston's attractiveness as a meeting place. ``It's very desirable from a family point of view,'' he says, citing the Fenway Park, where baseball's Red Sox play; the Boston Museum of Fine Arts just down Huntington Avenue from the Prudential; the Museum of Science, and all the historical sites along the Freedom Trail.

But the meeting site itself is the key, and the Convention Center Authority -- its $200 million bonding authority backed by the state's credit -- decided to set its goals high.

In fact, the authority had to literally aim high, because it was hemmed in by its Prudential Center location. Although part of the ``Pru'' property was taken by eminent domain to allow some ``spread,'' most of the Hynes's growth is going to be upward. Two levels will be added, and in the process the center's overall space will be more than doubled -- from about 326,000 square feet to roughly 748,000.

Regular denizens of the area encompassing the Christian Science Center, the Prudential Center, and upper Boylston Street are likely to become gawkers when the new structure takes definable shape. As portrayed in the architect's drawing, it will depart drastically from the prim boxiness and dull concrete faades of the Prudential.

Skylights and large windows promise an infusion of natural light and a feeling of spaciousness absent from some rival convention centers, such as San Francisco's Moscone Center, which resembles a huge underground bunker.

Boston's convention center planners think their design will have some other structural advantages, too, despite the fact that the Hynes's main meeting hall (or ``multipurpose room'') will seat no more than 5,000 people. Sheehan says the small size is offset by having five exhibit halls with a total of 193,000 square feet of space; a ballroom that will seat 2,200 diners (and presumably hold even more close-up dancers); and 41 meeting rooms totaling 70,000 square feet. ``State of the art'' audio-visual facilities are promised.

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The new center will have its own 600-seat dining area and lounge.

Sheehan promises that the four-story, light-flooded rotunda will be an attraction in itself. And the center's planners were mindful of complaints in the past about registrants stumbling over each other in the lobby and about less-than-adequate delivery and storage areas. They included 30,000 square feet of registration area, 15 loading docks, nine freight elevators, and every facility they could think of for setting up exhibits.

Preliminary site work was recently completed by the Perini Corporation. Bids are being accepted for the major construction contract, and the builder will be chosen by July, he says.

Local hotel owners and managers -- and those in the many other businesses that profit from, even count on, convention business -- are eagerly anticipating the Hynes Center's reopening in January 1988. Meanwhile, the hotels are concerned with filling the 21/2-year hiatus. Sheehan says that by getting already booked meetings and conventions to accept substitute accommodations in lesser facilities, 90 percent of bookings for the period have been saved.

Brian Stage, manager of the Sheraton Boston, says his hotel, which is cheek-to-jowl with Hynes in the Pru Center, says there will be some negative impact on his facility. The Sheraton management, however, has constructed a convention hall of sorts within the hotel to accommodate some events previously booked into Hynes as well as new ones.

Several new hotels that will be opening in the Boston area within the 21/2-year period may be harder hit, but the bigger Hynes will be a boon in the long run.

Sheehan says the Convention Center Authority anticipates doing especially well at attracting medical and academic groups, because of the concentration of such institutions in the Boston area.

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