Perhaps no city is struggling as hard with the limitations of its convention and exhibition space as is Boston. Its three convention centers have little more than half a million square feet of exhibit space combined; in the convention wars, that much in even one building doesn't cut it. "We rank 45th in size nationwide," says Patrick Moscaritolo, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, referring to Boston's principal convention center, the Hynes Convention Center, "but when you look at the demand for the city, we rank anywhere between ninth and 11th."

Boston is losing more than $430 million in potential association convention and tradeshow business a year, according to a state-commissioned report by ZHA, Inc., a construction project consultancy. Some prominent national associations have told the bureau they have outgrown the Hynes Center, which has only 193,000 square feet of exhibit space. Moscaritolo says the American Society of Association Executives, which held its annual meeting there last August, would be hard-pressed to return. In fact, convention bookings drop off dramatically beyond 2002. Simply put, associations that would like to meet in culturally and historically rich Boston are unable to make the fit.

City officials are continuing their long fight for a new convention center. Initially, a controversial plan outlined the creation of a mega-sports-and-convention complex, tying approval for a new convention center to approval for a new stadium for the New England Patriots. After contentious debate, the stadium proposal died. Now, convention center advocates hope to push approval though the state legislature this session.

"What's different this time around," says Moscaritolo, "is that the mayor of Boston has made the convention center his top economic development priority and has convinced the governor and the speaker of the state Senate to buy into the process."

But the plan faces vehement opposition. Detractors received a big boost when a recent study by the Pioneer Institute cautioned that a new center may not produce the economic benefits city officials promise. The report pointed to the 1988 Hynes Convention Center expansion as an example, noting that the boon predicted by consultants never materialized.

Assuming swift government approvals-a big assumption-Moscaritolo says the new center could be in operation by 2002. The proposed site is in South Boston, near the World Trade Center, one of the city's three exhibition facilities. Moscaritolo envisions the new center handling the large, exhibit-intensive meetings, while the Hynes would be repositioned for meeting room-intensive association and corporate business. The World Trade Center will continue to handle a variety of association and corporate groups, with the Bayside Expo Center remaining primarily a consumer show facility.

While the convention center project continues to stir debate, a major new hotel, the first in Boston in several years, is slated for a May 1998 opening. The Seaport Hotel & Conference Center is being developed by the World Trade Center, and will serve as a headquarters property for the facility. John Drew, CEO of the John Drew Development Co., which operates the World Trade Center and is building the hotel in partnership with Fidelity Investments, sees the hotel, and the possibility of the new convention center nearby, as catalysts in developing South Boston as a distinct destination much like the Back Bay, where the Hynes Center is located. While hotel space is currently at a premium, the waterfront area of South Boston does have several significant attractions, including the Children's Museum, the Computer Museum, and Harbor Lights, a tented music venue that operates during summer.

Convention & Exhibition Centers The John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center has two exhibit halls totaling 82,000 square feet on its plaza level, and two exhibit halls and an auditorium totaling 111,000 square feet on its second level. Three contiguous ballrooms total 24,544 square feet on the third level. Additionally, the center has 71,644 square feet of meeting space on its three levels.

The World Trade Center Boston has 120,000 square feet of single-level exhibit space, a divisible 5,500-square-foot ballroom, a 418-seat auditorium, and 20,000 square feet of additional meeting space.

The Bayside Expo Center has four single-level exhibit halls totaling 250,000 square feet; seven meeting rooms, totaling 16,900 square feet, adjacent to the exhibit halls; and a 7,100-square-foot ballroom, divisible into four.

Hotel News Massachusetts * The 427-room Seaport Hotel & Conference Center, scheduled to open in May 1998, will be connected to the World Trade Center. It will have 16,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space, including an 8,200-square-foot ballroom. Amenities include a health club with a swimming pool, a 150-seat restaurant, a business center, and teleconferencing facilities.

* A 600-room Hilton hotel at Logan International Airport, still in the design stage, is slated for a 1999 opening. The property will be adjacent to a new parking garage now under construction at the airport, and will be accessible to the terminals by climate-controlled walkways.

* The Westin Hotel, Copley Place, recently completed renovation of nine seventh-floor meeting rooms totaling 6,500 square feet. The 800-room hotel, in Boston's Back Bay district, has 47,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space.

* The Bostonian Hotel was renamed the Regal Bostonian Hotel last year upon its affiliation with Regal Hotels International and the Winn Development Company. The 152-room property, across from the Faneuil Hall Marketplace, has about 2,200 square feet of meeting space.

* The Hyatt Regency Cambridge just completed a $5 million renovation of nearly all of its 469 guest rooms and suites. The property's meeting room space remains about 22,000 square feet.

* As part of its $4.9 million expansion, Ocean Edge Resort and Conference Center, in Brewster on Cape Cod, added 46 one-bedroom guest units last year and will be adding 25 more by this May, bringing its total inventory to 210 units. The property has 11,980 square feet of meeting space.

* SeaCrest Oceanfront Resort, in North Falmouth on Cape Cod, just completed renovation of its 6,500-square-foot ballroom and its main dining room and lounge, and transformed a lounge into a 2,000-square-foot meeting room. The addition gives the 262-room property more than 30,000 square feet of meeting space.

* The Embassy Suites Hotel-Marlborough, about 30 miles west of Boston, is expanding from 100 to 238 guest units and quadrupling meeting space to 3,500 square feet, with completion set for July 1997.

Other New England Sites * The Samoset Resort, in Rockport, ME, is scheduled to open a golf clubhouse complex this month. The complex, the final stage of the resort's $2.5-million renovation of golf amenities, will have a 5,000-square-foot clubhouse, golf bag and cart storage facilities, a practice green, locker rooms, an 80-seat restaurant/bar, and a pro shop. The Samoset Resort has 150 hotel rooms, 72 time-share units, 34 town homes, and 17,000 square feet of meeting space.

* The Trinity Conference Center in Cornwall, CT, just completed building its largest meeting room. Butler Hall seats 125 people theater-style, and features a cathedral ceiling, a wood-burning fireplace, and mountain views. Trinity has 32 guest rooms and nine meeting rooms.

How's the Weather? Boston-area winters are snowy and cold, with average high temperatures in the 30s. Warm, occasionally humid conditions are the norm in summer, with the mercury reaching the 80s. Spring is unpredictable, while autumn, with its brilliant foliage and crisp temperatures, is, for many, the most enjoyable season.

Tax and Money Matters Hotel guests in Massachusetts will find a total of 9.7 percent tax added to their bills. This includes the 4.7 percent state sales tax.

Getting There Boston's Logan International Airport, which is served by all major domestic carriers and 16 foreign carriers, is three miles from downtown Boston. Limousines cost $7.50; cabs $10 to $15. A water shuttle between the airport and Rowes Wharf in Boston offers regular service, and costs $8 one way. A bus that travels between South Station Transportation Center in downtown Boston (site of the city's major Amtrak terminal) and the airport costs $6 one way, and makes the trip in 15 to 30 minutes, depending on traffic. Cabs to Cambridge, which is about five miles from Logan, cost at least $15.

Construction projects at the airport include the consolidation of parking spaces in the new West Garage, due for completion in 1998, and the recently completed modernization of Terminal E, the international terminal.

Worcester Regional Airport is served by Continental Express and US Airways Express. Worcester is about 40 miles west of Logan International Airport; Worcester Airport Limo charges $30 one way, $52 round-trip to Boson.

Air travelers bound for Cape Cod have several options. They can fly into Logan International Airport, which is about 75 miles from Hyannis. From Logan, they can fly Cape Air to Hyannis, or take a bus. Plymouth and Brockton Bus Line provides service between Logan International Airport and 17 towns on the Cape; the fare to Hyannis is $15 one way or $27 round-trip. Bonanza Bus Lines provides service between Logan International Airport and Bourne, Falmouth, and Woods Hole; the one-way fare is $17 and the round-trip fare is $30.

An alternative is to fly into T.F. Green Airport in Providence, RI. The airport, which is slightly closer than Logan to the Cape, opened a new terminal in 1996. T.F. Green is serviced by US Airways and US Airways Express, Continental, United and United Express, Northwest and Northwest Airlink, American and American Eagle, Southwest, and Delta. From there, attendees can board Plymouth and Brockton Bus Line for service to Hyannis; the fare is $21 one way, $38 round-trip.

Travelers can also fly into Barnstable Municipal Airport in Hyannis. Colgan Air flies to Hyannis from New York's LaGuardia Airport, and will start service from Newark International Airport in May.

Meeting Executives Comment Ease of access is one reason that, year after year, the Northeastern Retail Lumber Association returns to Boston for its America East conference and exhibition, held each January. And access to the conference venue, the World Trade Center, was improved greatly last year with the completion of the Ted Williams Tunnel under Boston Harbor. "With the new tunnel, it's a ten-minute drive from Logan Airport to the World Trade Center," says Gabrielle Lodder, director of conventions and publications for the Rochester, NY-based association. "Previously, it could have been anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, depending on traffic."

Lodder says attendees also appreciated the $6.50-a-day parking rates at the World Trade Center-much less than the parking rates in the vicinity of the Hynes Convention Center in downtown's Back Bay section.

Marilyn Hauck, president of The Complete Conference in Sacramento, CA, bucked Boston's winter when she booked the Westin Copley Place, the Marriott Copley Place, and the Sheraton Boston Hotel & Towers, for the December meeting of the Pittsburgh-based Materials Research Society. The hotels are connected to each other, and to the Hynes Convention Center, through enclosed walkways. Aside from weather-dodging, another benefit, Hauck says, is the cooperation among the three hotels. For instance, an attendee rooming at one of the hotels can charge a service provided by another of the hotels. The hotels' telephone systems operate as one. She says. "Typically, if you are using three hotels, it's like walking from one planet to the next. But when working with these hotels, you have a joint pre-con and daily operations meetings with representatives from all three hotels present. It truly feels like one property." (Billing, however, is kept separate, as it usually is in these cooperative arrangements.)

One feature that attendees found particularly helpful are the T-1 lines the three hotels have installed in meeting areas for faster connection to the Internet. During the last conference, there was a station in the Marriott where attendees could stop to check their e-mail.

Hauck, who handles Boston-area meetings for other clients, offers this advice: "Be flexible about picking dates, because the city is very popular, and you can find some great bargains if you're flexible. Be sure to turn your people loose-there's so much to do that you don't need to organize events. And bring your tennis shoes, get out, and walk. You'll be astonished by how much you see in Boston by just walking for 15 minutes."

For More Information Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau Richard Green, vice president of sales (617) 536-4100, (800) 888-5515 Fax: (617) 424-7664 http://www.bostonusa.com

Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce Arthur Ratsy, assistant executive director (508) 362-3225 Fax: (508) 362-3698 http://www.capecod.com