The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority’s controversial unloading of 6-plus acres of prime land in South Boston is getting a do-over.
The MCCA caught flak late last year after putting the land, spread across three parcels on D and E streets, up for development through an unusually quick auction of long-term lease rights. The MCCA announced the contest around Thanksgiving and gave only one month for development teams to assemble and make their bids. By the late December deadline, only two proposals were submitted.
Now the MCCA is saying it’s time to restart. On Tuesday, the convention center authority said it was canceling the original request-for-proposals process and rejecting both responses. It plans to instead issue an amended request for proposals on June 12, with bids due three months later. The convention center authority declined to comment beyond the notice of cancellation.
The decision didn’t come as a surprise, given the concerns raised about the quick turnaround for the bids. South Boston politicians accused MCCA management of rushing through a land disposition before a new governor, Maura Healey, took office in January, particularly without seeking more public input in crafting the bid parameters. They also expressed concern that the land, across D Street from the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, had been originally obtained by eminent domain for the public purpose of supporting the city’s convention industry, and questioned why it was now being used for private development.
David Gibbons, the MCCA’s executive director, responded at the time that he saw the redevelopment of the parcels as fulfilling the public purpose of the original land taking because it would provide for underground parking for conventioneers, add business to support two hotels along D Street, and help subsidize the convention center authority’s overall operations. Gibbons also said he was trying to bring some life to D Street, a heavily trafficked thoroughfare with many empty or underused lots.
Developer Related Beal had pressed the MCCA for an extension in December, to give it enough time to put together its own bid for the land. The developer said at the time it had only become aware of the opportunity one week before bids were due.
Now, Related Beal and others will get another opportunity to compete for the site, perhaps against the two teams that bid in the first go-around. One team led by Cronin Development proposed 1.9 million square feet of development across the three parcels, primarily focused on life sciences. The other, led by Boston Global Investors and development firm RISE, proposed roughly 600,000 square feet of development — with space for offices, research labs, and biomanufacturing — over the same three parcels. Both proposals included a grocery store, an amenity that nearby residents have been wanting for years, as well as new office space for the convention center authority.
Matthew Gorzkowicz, Healey’s secretary of administration and finance, said the MCCA board vote on April 13 to rebid the property “was an important step toward a more fair, transparent, and bidding process.” His designee to the board voted in favor of the redo.
“I’m encouraged that the MCCA listened to the concerns raised by the community and other stakeholders regarding the previous process and has started down a path that has the potential to produce the greatest value to taxpayers and the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center,” Gorzkowicz added, “while respecting the circumstances through which this land was acquired.”