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N.E. Boat Show still without a home

A bill in the state Senate would allow the show to use the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center

A bill in the state Senate would allow the show to use the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center

The people who put on the New England Boat Show say they’re worried that if legislation in the Massachusetts state Senate allowing gate shows at the Boston Convention and Exposition Center isn’t approved soon, the show won’t have a home next year.

“We could potentially be left without a New England Boat Show,” says Joe O’Neal, who has organized the show since 1983. “We’re presently not under contract for a 2007 show at the [Bayside] Expo Center. Legislation allowing gate shows like ours at the [BCEC] passed the House and was supposed to be considered by the Senate, but hasn’t. Until that legislation is passed, we’re out of luck.”

The Expo Center has been home to the New England Boat Show for 24 years.

The boat show’s principal sponsor, the Massachusetts Marine Trades Association, recently launched an aggressive lobbying campaign, urging state senators to pave the way for boat shows to be held at the BCEC, the largest convention center in New England.

“It’s the facility that the boat show desperately needs. With 60- to 90-foot ceilings and more space, we can have more and bigger boats,” O’Neal says. “The show hasn’t expanded since 1992 when the Expo Center expanded by 50,000 square feet. I have 300 exhibitors on a wait list to get into the show, which doesn’t include the current exhibitors that need more space. The demand for more space at the show far outweighs the space available at the Expo Center.”

A 1997 state law prohibits gate shows at the BCEC. Gate shows charge admission to the public, as opposed to trade shows, which are open only to those registered for the show. A bill (House 4493) would amend the law to allow gate shows, such as the New England Boat Show. The bill, known as the “gate show” bill, was approved by the House in November. It is pending in the Senate, but no action is being taken, according to Leona Roach, executive director of the MMTA.

Members of the MMTA say the loss of a winter boat show would devastate the state’s marine industry. The association traces about half of its members’ total annual sales to the New England Boat Show, and is calling on its members to contact Senate president Robert Travaglini and Sen. Jack Hart to lobby for passage.

Jamy Madeja, a lobbyist for MMTA, says Hart has expressed concern about the impact gate shows will have on the local neighborhood, such as increased traffic. But, Madeja points out that several improvements have been made to the city’s infrastructure since the building was constructed. The Massachusetts Turnpike, for example, has an exit that spills into the convention center. Visitors no longer have to navigate South Boston neighborhoods, she says. Sen. Hart did not return calls for comment.

The $800 million BCEC, which opened in 2004, was built with public money. It is intended for conventions or trade shows that generate restaurant and hotel room sales, according to officials. Also, legislators did not want the new convention center to take business away from other Boston venues such as Bayside, the Hynes Convention Center and World Trade Center.

The MMTA hopes to convince legislators that the boat show provides a substantial economic boost to the city. In February about 62,000 people from all over the region attended the New England Boat Show, which was in its 50th year, O’Neal says. The MMTA estimates that show visitors annually spend more than $2.5 million during the show on tickets, consumed meals, retail purchases and parking. The group projects a larger show at the convention center will generate about $3.5 million in consumer spending. Additionally, exhibitors contribute to the local economy. They pay parking fees, dine in restaurants and, in some cases, stay in hotel rooms.

The MMTA also says the boat show is essential to the state’s marine industry. The boating industry contributes nearly $2 billion annually to the Commonwealth’s coffers, and employs more than 27,000, according to the MMTA. The industry estimates more than $192 million is spent annually in the state on new boats, engines and accessories. About $14.8 million is generated annually on boating-related sales tax.

The new BCEC is in Boston’s Seaport District. It has 516,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit space, 84 meeting rooms and a 41,020-square-foot ballroom overlooking the city skyline and Boston Harbor.

Associate Editor JoAnn W. Goddard contributed to this story.