James E. Rooney
Boston native James E. Rooney is executive director of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority. The MCCA oversees the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, the John B. Hynes Convention Center in the Back Bay, the Boston Common Garage, and the MassMutual Center in Springfield. He spoke to us about Bostonís convention industry and the cityís greatest assets.
The local tourism industry has blossomed since the Boston Convention Center opened in 2004. What are some of the top features conventioneers like about Boston?
An executive running a huge Microsoft convention here in Boston said to me, “You know why people like coming to Boston? Because Boston is a city that happens to hold conventions – it’s not a ‘convention city.’ ”
First and foremost, as a leading center for business, industry, and the innovation technology, Boston provides convention attendees with a productive location to do serious work. Many of the conventions that come here are medical or biotech-based shows, all drawn by the region’s top biotech and life sciences sectors.
But the city itself is a major reason conventions love coming to Boston. We’re 400 years old. We’re not a pre-fabricated or “created environment” like other cities that live on convention business, but a real city that has a unique mix of culture, sport, international scholarship, politics, and grit.
I enjoy seeing visitors come to Boston thinking it’s going to be a very “Irish” city – and in many ways it is – but leave with a strong sense of our diversity, from Haitian cuisine in Jamaica Plain to an afternoon cricket match in Somerville. We’re also the birthplace of modern democracy, and our landmark brick and mortar draws people from across the country and around the world. It also doesn’t hurt that we have some of the best restaurants and shopping experiences on the East Coast. And with Boston’s accessibility, you can walk to it all.
You’ve won awards for customer service and quality programs, amenities and facilities. What are the most important traits for Boston’s front-line hospitality staff to possess?
At the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, we’re committed to excellence at every level of service we provide – from our sales staff working with show managers to the ambassadors who first greet attendees at curbside. Our belief is that the people using our facilities should be able to focus on their work while also having the most positive experience possible. Our work inside the building, and Boston’s charm outside, makes this possible.
Our staff is highly responsive to the needs of clients and we pride ourselves on being proactive problem solvers, from the moment their organization shows interest in booking a show to the moment the last piece of equipment is rolled out the door.
The BCEC in the Seaport District and the Hynes Convention Center in Back Bay are perfect bookends that feature two of Boston’s most interesting neighborhoods. Will the Seaport District someday look like Back Bay, in terms of concentration, vitality, nightlife and overall buzz?
The South Boston Waterfront district is already an exciting part of Boston that has its own unique character and feel. The BCEC has contributed a great deal to the growth here by creating demand for hotels and restaurants. Even now, despite this economic lull, I feel the future is very bright for this section of the city. It’s only just begun.
Legal Sea Food’s test kitchen is right down the street, allowing diners to savor the world-famous chowder but also try something new. Morton’s The Steakhouse is here, as is Salvatore’s. And more top restaurants are coming.
ut it’s not just food. The Institute of Contemporary Art’s relocation to the district is a huge draw, as is its beautiful and unique new home. The MBTA’s Silver Line service from South Station and the airport is a vital link for the area, which will spur on even more development as time goes on. And as more hotels and mixed residential and retail buildings appear, I’m confident this is going to be one of the most exciting and vibrant sections of Boston.
Some visitors are content to shuttle between their hotel and convention. How do you get conventioneers to experience the Real Boston, especially the diverse culture found in the neighborhoods?
If our visitors only shuttle between the Convention Center and their hotel, we’ve failed to give them the Boston experience. That’s why the MCCA works with our partners throughout the city to do as much as we can to expose visitors to all that Boston has to offer. We provide visitors with information on the city that is helpful to them when they are deciding what to do when they are here doing business. We also provide free transportation into Boston in the form of our lunchtime trolley service, which brings attendees to Boston’s neighborhood restaurants. And thanks to the city’s “walkability,” if that’s a word, we provide detailed walking maps to visitors that show the mileage and time required to get to key destinations on foot. We’ve got a great building and professional staff, but the city is our greatest selling point.
You grew up in South Boston, considered one of America’s quintessential Irish-American neighborhoods. What’s the best thing about being from Southie?
South Boston is one of the most tightly knit communities in the city, and that definitely gives it a unique character. It has had a reputation for being a little rough around the edges, but I feel it also has an unrivaled heart that gets overlooked quite often. Growing up here, I had my family, my extended family, and neighbors who were always looking out for each other. That gave me a strong sense of how the fabric of South Boston was woven into the city as a whole, which ultimately led me to a career in public service and a strong commitment to Boston as well as the Commonwealth.
Being raised in Southie also forced me to have a good sense of humor and a healthy perspective on balancing life and work. Coming from a family with 11 brothers didn’t hurt either.
When did the Rooneys come to Boston and from what county(ies) did your family originate in Ireland?
My mother’s parents, Michael and Delia Corliss, originated from County Mayo around 1900. Interestingly, they both came from Mayo but met here in Boston. My father’s ancestors emigrated from Ireland earlier in the 1800s.
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