GREGORY SULLIVAN was appalled.
The former state inspector general was studying House Bill 4111, the legislation authorizing a $1.1 billion expansion of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. The bill, which sailed through the House of Representatives last week on a 130-19 vote, would empower the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority not only to enlarge its already enormous convention facility in South Boston by 60 percent, but to select a hotel company to build and operate a 1,000- to 1,200-room hotel on land owned by Massport across the street.
With 37 years of Beacon Hill experience under his belt — 17 as a state representative and 20 in the inspector general’s office — there isn’t much about legislative sausage-making and fishy public dealing that is likely to get past Sullivan. He was the IG who uncovered the irregularities that eventually led to the conviction of House Speaker Sal DiMasi. Now he plies his skills as research director for the Pioneer Institute, a Boston think tank that has long kept an eye on the state’s convention-center politics and policymaking.
As Sullivan drilled down into the legislation, he says, “I just cringed.” He sees the makings of a “classic sweetheart deal,” one that will effectively allow the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority “to basically pick whomever they want” to put up the hotel and reap public subsidies that could be worth upward of $100 million. Yet nowhere in the bill or in the detailed Request for Qualifications already issued by the authority is there any stipulation that the hotel contract be awarded to the qualified developer who comes in with the lowest subsidy bid. Nor is there any indication of how the authority intends to assess the proposals it receives.