In September 2019, the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority Board approved the sale of the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center. Now being shopped by brokers Colliers International, the transaction aims in part to finance the planned $500 million expansion of the more contemporary Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.
Local interest in the prized 5.8-acre Back Bay site include neighborhood associations and Boston’s performing arts community.
Advocates for redeveloping the Hynes into a modern multipurpose performing arts center—which the city surprisingly lacks—include the nomadic Boston Lyric Opera, or BLO.
This January, Eileen Williston, BLO’s managing director, testified before a joint Massachusetts House/Senate Committee on the subject.
“With a major investment in an arts center like this,” she stated, “we have the opportunity to create an iconic landmark that is a space of innovation and access, serving and engaging its neighborhood, its city and its region, with daytime and evening activities year-round.”
Cited by Williston, a 2019 impact study by ArtsBoston found that more than 21 million people attend Greater Boston arts events annually. That’s reportedly quadruple the yearly attendance at all major Boston sports events combined, generating a direct annual economic impact of $2 billion for Greater Boston.
In the meantime, BLO—along with Boston groups—are not lacking for options.
“Like many of your readers, we look for interesting venues for productions and events,” said BLO spokesperson John Michael Kennedy. “These include traditional theaters and intriguing found spaces.”
From celebrated vintage theaters to world-renowned concert venues, Boston arts venues put on quite the show.
The Boston Theater District
Venues utilized by BLO include the 1,172-seat Emerson Majestic Cutler Theater, one of a dozen-plus major performance venues forming the Boston Theatre District.
The Majestic is owned and operated by Emerson College, along with the Paramount Center and Tufte Performance & Production Center. Rental options for select groups (no weddings or banquets) at the Paramount include the restored Art Deco-era 572-seat Robert J. Orchard Stage.
Nationally renowned for its communications and arts programs, the college also owns the Emerson Colonial Theater under an operating license with the U.K.-based Ambassador Theatre Group.
Opened in 1900, the Colonial is the city’s oldest continuously operated theater and was a star of Boston’s former national preeminence as a pre-Broadway town.
(Photo: Exterior of the Emerson Paramount Center; Credit: Jeff Heilman)
Following a multimillion-dollar renovation of its gilded interiors in 2018, the Colonial rekindled that tradition with Moulin Rouge! The Musical!, currently the hottest ticket on Broadway. Versatile group rentals include the Ambassador Lounge and full buyouts.
All four venues surround the Emerson campus, which sits opposite Boston Common.
The nearby Boch Center houses two legendary venues for performances and large-scale event hosting. Opened in 1925 as a movie palace, The Wang Center is renowned as the most important Boston landmark of the Roaring Twenties.
Modeled after the Paris Opera House, this lavish 3,500-seat grand dame features one of the five largest stages in the country, one of which is the 1,500-seat Shubert Theater, which opened in 1910 for Shakespearean plays and is known as “the Little Princess.”
Boston’s Theater District continues to impress. Citizens Bank Opera House, originally a 1928 vaudeville palace, was restored to its former glory in 2004. Rotating performances by the Boston Ballet with Broadway productions, this lavish landmark offers guided historical tours and event rentals. Options include the 150-capacity Grand Lobby, 80-person VIP Lounge and full buyouts of the 2,600-seat theater.
While seeking a dedicated world-class modern performing arts venue, Boston has no shortage of world-class performers. Now in its 139th year, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, or BSO, reaches a global audience through local and touring shows, as well as via the internet, radio, television, educational programs and recordings.
BSO’s annual summer series at Tanglewood in Western Massachusetts ranks among the world’s most celebrated music festivals
Renowned as one of the world’s top concert venues, Symphony Hall has been BSO’s Boston home since 1900. Pioneering attributes include acoustics designed by a Harvard physics professor and a world-class concert hall organ.
Versatile hosting options at the venue, which also serves the Boston Pops Orchestra and Boston Symphony Chamber Players, include 380-capacity seated dinners and 550-person receptions.
(Photo: Boston Symphony Hall Interior; Credit: BSO)
BSO’s original home was the Boston Music Hall. Opened in 1852, the building became the Orpheum Theatre in 1900. Operated by Live Nation, this historic 2,700-seat venue has hosted many musical greats through the years and offers spaces for corporate events and social functions, including full buyouts.
Merged with The Boston Conservatory in June 2016, Berklee College of Music, the world’s leading college for contemporary music education, presents more than 1,500 concerts and events annually. Rental spaces include the 1,215-seat Berklee Performance Center and 126-capacity David Friend Recital Hall. Planners can also book Berklee-trained student musicians to perform at events.
Home of the storied NHL Boston Bruins and NBA Boston Celtics, 19,600-seat TD Garden is Boston’s premier venue for headliner concerts and entertainment, with versatile event hosting for up to 10,000 attendees.
In 2016, the TD Garden facility commenced a $950 million mixed-use expansion called The Hub on Causeway. Unveiled in November 2019, completed elements include 64,000 square feet of expanded TD Garden space; 1,500-capacity Big Night Live! concert venue; 270-room citizenM hotel with rooftop bar; and enhanced transit connections.
[Related: New Projects Massachusetts Meetings]
A Strong Supporting Cast
Cambridge, Merrimack Valley and Beverly combine to give the Greater Boston Area a diverse set of arts venues for meetings and events, or add-on activities for groups.
In neighboring Cambridge across the Charles River, the award-winning American Repertory Theater, or A.R.T., has been “expanding the boundaries of theater” since 1980. Venues include the 550-seat Loeb Drama Center for mainstage performances, and OBERON, a destination for theater and nightlife on the fringe of Harvard Square.
Staged at the Harvard Athletic Complex, the annual Boston Calling Music Festival offers a high-energy tie-in for groups. Headliners for the May 2020 edition include the Foo Fighters and Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Greater Merrimack Valley venues include Cary Hall, home of the Lexington Symphony, and the Concord Players community theater group in Walden. The latter dates to 1857, when Louisa May Alcott and her sister Anna founded the Concord Dramatic Union. Renamed in 1919, the company is celebrating its centennial season with performances of Funny Girl, Barefoot in the Park and Steel Magnolias.
Alcott’s legacy is currently in the spotlight with the hit movie Little Women. Her home in Concord, Orchard House, offers tours, special events and educational programs.
In the North of Boston region, Beverly has several event-capable performing arts venues. The 1,500-seat North Shore Music Theatre features in-the-round productions and hosts events at its 159-seat Backstage Bistro restaurant. The Cabot Theatre celebrates its centennial in 2020 amid an ongoing restoration campaign. The 560-seat Larcom Theatre is a restored former vaudevillian gem from 1912.
Greater Boston CVB Information (2020)
Cambridge Office for Tourism | 617.441.2884
Greater Boston CVB | 617.536.4100
Greater Merrimack Valley CVB | 978.459.6150
North of Boston CVB | 978.465.6555
SIDEBAR: Encore Boston Harbor: An Artful Stage for Meetings and Events
Until the 1860s, the lower Mystic River, which feeds into Boston Harbor, was a healthy tidal marsh. Then came the chemical manufacturers, which by the 1920s had lethally toxified the waterfront. An encore seemed unimaginable for the blighted area—until Wynn Resorts undertook a five-year, $82 million remediation that brought the river and land back to life.
Photo: Exterior of Encore Boston Harbor; Credit: Barbara Kraft
Setting the stage for construction of the luxurious 671-room Encore Boston Harbor, this environmental renaissance is amplified by the resort’s aesthetic. Its pure design theater creates a dramatic, emotional atmosphere for guests following Wynn’s “evoca-tecture" model, which I got to see first-hand on a recent stay.
“Artistry is a core value at Encore Boston Harbor, and that is reflected, both literally and figuratively, in everything we do,” said Kassi Weist, executive director of hotel sales and marketing. “We believe that our guests should encounter examples of creativity and beauty at every turn. It’s an integral part of our process.”
Like its Vegas siblings, the Encore’s sensuous curves and tree-lined entry drive make for marquee arrivals. With its twin curving escalators, the Garden Lobby features the brand’s signature floral carousel. The horticultural mastery extends throughout the resort, including 1,000-plus mature trees, tens of thousands of shrubs and 50,000 flowering species.
From Jeff Koons’ $28 million “Popeye” sculpture on the garden esplanade level to Jaume Plensa’s three 10-foot-high stainless-steel portraits of women in Encore’s 6.5-acre Harborwalk waterfront park, museum-quality works of art abound. The print of Roy Lichtenstein’s Oh, Jeff...I Love You, Too...But... in my harbor-facing room made me smile. Along with sweeping water and Boston views, I could see two large-scale murals adorning the walls of a Harborwalk-facing electrical substation.
The works Animal Magic by Okuda San Miguel and Fusion #1019 by Tavar Zawacki resulted from Encore’s partnership with Goldman Global Arts, curators of Miami’s Wynwood Walls.
Photo: Public art is all around Encore Boston Harbor; Credit: Roger Davies
In a release, co-founder Jessica Goldman Srebnick stated that “Goldman Global Arts uses art to transform the familiar into the extraordinary.”
Groups have 50,000-plus square feet of lobby-level conference space, including a 37,000-square-foot single-span grand ballroom and event lawn as part of 21,000 square feet of scenic seasonal outdoor space. Unique venues include Memoire, offering a nightlife fantasy experience.
Echoing Boston’s theatrical revival, the Encore is the definitive second act.
Latest & Greatest
Projected to open in early 2021, the two-tower, 1,055-room Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport will reportedly offer 100,000-plus square feet of flexible space, including Boston’s largest hotel ballroom, at 25,000 square feet. The $550 million, LEED Silver project directly accesses the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.
The Langham, Boston is scheduled to reopen in early 2021 following an extensive renovation. The luxury icon is updating all 312 guest rooms along with function spaces and public areas.
Marriott International’s experiential Moxy brand debuted in Boston last October with Moxy Boston Downtown. Located in the heart of the Theater District, the 340-key property offers 1,695 square feet of space in three meeting rooms.
Currently offering nonstop service to some 77 domestic destinations and 56 international destinations, Logan International Airport is undergoing a nearly $700 million renovation of Terminal E to further expand capacity. Aiming for 2023, highlights include seven new gates, a new 400,000-square-foot building and enhanced passenger processing capacity.
In November 2019, Fenway Sports Group broke ground on MGM Music Hall, a new performance venue located in a former service yard behind Fenway Park’s right field bleachers. Targeting fall 2021, the four-story, 91,000-square-foot facility, with naming rights going to MGM Resorts International, will reportedly accommodate 5,000 people for wide-ranging live events.
Opened in 1927 as one of the first Ritz-Carlton hotels in the U.S., The Taj Boston is rebranding to The Newbury Boston. Scheduled for early 2020, the transformed 286-room Back Bay treasure will offer 16,000 square feet of event space and new signature dining experiences.
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