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House votes to support $1.1 billion expansion of convention centre in Boston

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BOSTON - A proposed $1.1 billion expansion of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center was approved by House lawmakers on Wednesday, with backers saying all of Massachusetts would benefit from the additional jobs, tax dollars and tourism that would flow from the project.

The bill, which passed on a 130-19 vote, directs proceeds from the state's existing hotel room occupancy tax to cover bonds that would be issued to pay for the expansion. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Supporters said the convention centre in the South Boston neighbourhood, which opened in 1997, isn't large enough and doesn't have enough adjoining hotel rooms to attract many large-scale national and international meetings, causing Boston to miss out on more than a dozen big events each year.

"It's going to bring people to Boston who want to visit here and will then visit other parts of Massachusetts and spend money in your communities," said Rep. Peter Kocot, a Democrat who represents the western Massachusetts city of Northampton and urged his colleagues to support the bill.

The proposed expansion would increase by more than 50 per cent the facility's current 2.1 million square feet of total space and allow three new hotels to be built, giving Boston one of the five largest convention centres in the U.S., supporters said. The project would create about 2,000 permanent jobs and about 4,000 temporary construction jobs, they added, while generating hundreds of millions of dollars in new tax receipts.

No lawmakers spoke against the bill before the House vote. The Boston-based Pioneer Institute had previously warned the convention centre expansion could divert capital funds from other state needs.

The bill does not call for any increases in current taxes or fees. Kocot said if the state ran into trouble meeting its obligations for repaying the bonds in the future, the measure would allow for a hike in the hotel room tax, but only within the Boston area.

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