A soccer stadium in Dorchester could be ‘terrific,’ Baker says
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Charlie Baker never warmed up to the idea of Boston hosting the Summer Olympics, and he wasn't fond of a $1 billion expansion plan for the South Boston convention center.
But when it comes to a Major League Soccer stadium in Dorchester, the governor is keeping an open mind, especially since Boston is one of the few MLS markets without such a venue.
"The opportunity with respect to that could be really terrific," Baker tells me. "It could be great for all the kids who play soccer."
That might count as downright enthusiastic for a governor who likes to play in the middle of the field.
The latest is that Bob Kraft, the billionaire owner of the New England Patriots and New England Revolution, is still angling to build a soccer stadium on the site of the former Bayside Expo Center. Currently, the Revolution play in Foxborough at Gillette Stadium, which was designed for football.
The Kraft family has been engaged in regular discussions with the city of Boston and UMass, which owns the Bayside site, but the sides do not appear close to an agreement. Any deal would be likely to involve the University of Massachusetts offering a long-term lease for the land, while the Krafts would pay for a $250 million stadium that seats 20,000 to 25,000 fans.
"At this point, conversations between UMass and the Krafts are sort of ongoing, and there are a bunch of pretty significant open issues," Baker said.
Still, the governor can see how this could be a boon to the neighborhood.
"A facility like that could be used by kids and by UMass Boston and by the community at large," he said. "If the rest of it could get worked out, I think it could be a plus."
Chief among the concerns have been traffic and how to pay for infrastructure costs, such as fixing the notorious Kosciuszko Circle at the top of Morrissey Boulevard. One analysis, done for the 2024 Summer Games bid, estimated that replacing the state-owned rotary with an intersection and traffic light would cost $120 million, and if bypass roads are built, the tab climbs to as much as $220 million.
UMass bought the site in 2010 after the expo center went into foreclosure and planned to expand the Boston campus there.
So what does Mayor Marty Walsh — Mr. Olympics — make of all of this?
It's not hard to guess that he would like to see a soccer stadium in Boston. In 2014, Kraft eyed a site off Interstate 93 on Frontage Road, where the city owns a tow yard and public works garage. But Walsh seems to favor the UMass site, and such a complex might finally get the congested K-Circle fixed.
"It has been tough my whole life," said Walsh, a Dorchester native. "This would be an opportunity to improve the circle."
Like Baker, Walsh likes the idea of the stadium being used not only for professional soccer, but by the wider Boston community.
"I think initially the community would have a lot of questions," he said, but "the potential benefits would outweigh any potential burdens."
Another issue that needs to be ironed out is what to do with the Boston Teachers Union's headquarters, which sits next door to the potential stadium site. Ideally, the union moves, but president Richard Stutman isn't quite sold on the idea.
"We intend to stay. We've been there over 40 years," Stutman said. "We hope we can work something out with UMass and the Krafts."
The union, which represents 11,500 current and retired teachers, conducts weekly training sessions there. Perhaps Stutman is holding out for help in finding a new home.
"Both the Krafts and UMass know what our needs are," Stutman said. "They have been very congenial and productive. We are obviously at the beginning stages. It is an exciting opportunity for everybody."
Some may say I have never met a stadium I didn't like. But I really like this one. What's most exciting is the opportunity to build something different in a part of the city that could use an economic jolt. It's not another strip mall, big-box retailer, or luxury condo tower — and that's a good thing.
Bidding for the sprawling Olympics tore the city apart, but a Dorchester stadium could be the project that brings everyone together.