BOSTON--- Several business groups in Boston have joined together to support Mayor Thomas M. Menino's plan for a convention center-only facility in downtown Boston.
Even with the new support, however, several sources in the city said the plan may still meet opposition from legislative leader.
Earlier this month, Menino announced that his administration would support a plan designed by the Boston Redevelopment Authority that advocates building a large convention center in the city's South End.
The Redevelopment Authority's proposal called for the city to build a center for conventions only, without the 70,000-seat football stadium that some had also proposed for the project.
The mayor's support stemmed from the findings of an 87-page report released last month by the authority on the feasibility and impact of a new facility.
Although gaining the endorsement of business was a big step, one of the state's most vocal proponents for improved convention center facilities said some major questions still have to be answered.
"There are some shortcomings in the BRA's proposal that will have to be discussed with the mayor," said Francis X. Joyce, executive director of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority. "I hope to address them with the mayor within the next couple days."
Joyce said he would prefer to wait until he has met with Menino before making his concerns public. However, he did say that the city should look at all possible sites for the center and not get locked into the South End.
Marisa Lago, head of the Redevelopment Authority, said yesterday that the authority is moving forward with its proposal and hopes to have legislative approval before the end of the year.
Although the business community was initially hesitant to support the project, several sources said the city's Chamber of Commerce and the Massachusetts Lodging Association will support Menino's plan.
The support for the Redevelopment Authority's plan caught many Bostonians by surprise.
By supporting the convention center-only plan, Menino, who is a firstterm Democrat, may be flying in the face of the legislature's powerful Democratic leaders.
It is widely accepted that Massachusetts Senate president William M. Bulger, D-Boston, wants to build the convention center with proceeds of bond sales by the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority. But it is unclear whether Menino's plan would call for the Convention Center Authority to play a role in the financing.
Additionally, the Boston Herald reported yesterday that Bulger was not even informed that the convention center would be built in his South End district until the plan was released to the public.
Joyce said he was not optimistic about the state legislature's ability to get a convention center measure through before the middle of next year.
"Senate President Bulger gave the MCCA the ability to sell bonds in a bill last year, but the House has not acted on it," Joyce said. "It is unlikely that the matter will be addressed before the end of this year's session."
Joyce said he "had no idea" why the leadership of the House and Senate -- both controlled by Democrats -- could not resolve the questions about the convention center.
But Menino, who some sources felt would not be as strong a personality as former Boston mayors, flexed his political muscles and gained important support from the initially hesitant business community.
During Menino's 1993 campaign, he said that improving Boston's convention center business would be one of his highest priorities.
The Redevelopment Authority's report said a convention center built on C Street, which is located in the Fort Point Channel section of South End, would comprise 550,000 square feet of exposition space in a facility of 1.44 million square feet. The cost would be approximately $438 million.
The report also said that the facility will be open and ready for business in the year 2000 and generate approximately $225 million in extra revenue for the city and state in its first year. Joyce said that one of his criticisms about the project is that the Redevelopment Authority's interest in redeveloping the section of the city near C Street should not be paid for by state taxpayers.
If bonds are going to be sold for the project, Joyce said, then the state should choose a site that will benefit the entire city and state, and not just one section of Boston.
Constructing a facility on the next best site, which the report maintains is on Northern Avenue in the South Bay section, would cost $556 million. The large difference is due to the expected infrastructure changes that would have to be made on Northern Avenue.
The report said that if the facility were financed through the sale of municipal bonds, the expected yearly burden from debt service would be around $35.6 million over 30 years.
Massachusetts will lose $1.2 billion in revenues each year until a new fa- cility is in place, Joyce said.