UMass puts Bayside Expo Center site up for sale
The University of Massachusetts hopes that 20 acres of asphalt near its campus in Dorchester can help it address pressing needs at financially strapped UMass Boston.
The UMass system said this week that it has put the site of the former Bayside Expo Center up for sale, aiming to reap funds to reinvest in aging campus facilities and find a development partner that can bring jobs to UMass Boston’s Columbia Point campus and give the school room to grow.
School officials did not disclose an asking price, but real estate industry experts say the property could fetch $200 million or more. UMass bought the site out of foreclosure in 2010 for just $18.7 million.
The site, which is steps from the JFK/UMass Station on the MBTA’s Red Line, offers a huge development opportunity, said UMass president Marty Meehan. The idea is to cash in on the current hot real estate market, raising money to demolish a crumbling parking garage that sits beneath much of the UMass Boston campus, as well as to pay for other badly needed upgrades.
“We want to maximize the value of this,” Meehan said. “UMass Boston students can’t afford to invest $150 million to fix that [garage].”
Last fall, 16 major development companies responded to an initial inquiry to gauge interest in the site, where UMass says it envisions “a modern-day Harvard Square . . . where a diverse community lives, learns, and thrives.”
The respondents ranged from global firms such as Skanska and LendLease to veteran local builders like Drew Co. and Corcoran Jennison to several national student-housing developers.
All will get a first look at the final sales package, said Rob Griffin, head of capital markets at the real estate firm Newmark Knight Frank, who is handling the deal for UMass. But his team expects to offer the site more broadly, as well.
“We’re looking to leave no stone unturned,” Griffin said. “We’re looking for the best partner, and the best outcome for UMass that we can find.”
The university is open to any kind of deal, Meehan said, from a full sale to a long-term lease to some kind of joint venture.
It would prefer, he said, an arrangement that includes room for UMass Boston to expand over the coming decades. He also anticipates the land would provide homes for companies that want to operate next to a public research university.
“There’s enormous potential here, both for the university and for economic development for the city of Boston,” Meehan said.
Since UMass bought the land eight years ago, it has been considered as a potential site for both an athlete’s village for the 2024 Olympics and for a new stadium for the New England Revolution soccer team. With both of those plans dead, and with UMass’s financial needs growing, Meehan said, the university has decided to sell.
The property is in a corner of Dorchester that’s attracting a lot of real estate action.
In separate deals, developers recently purchased a large complex owned by Santander Bank and the 16.5-acre former home of The Boston Globe, both on Morrissey Boulevard.
To the north, WinnCompanies is starting work on a makeover of the Mary Ellen McCormack public housing complex, and much of Dorchester Avenue in South Boston has been re-zoned for large-scale redevelopment.
In its initial request for interest, UMass estimated that Bayside could accommodate about 2.5 million square feet of office, housing, and retail space — twice as much as in the Prudential Tower — and said that number could go higher if a developer partnered with UMass on the project.
It’s the sort of opportunity that could transform the broader neighborhood, said Tom O’Brien, managing director of HYM Investment Group, which is considering a bid.
“It’s an area that has not received the attention it should receive,” he said. “There’s so much you can do here to open it up to both the university and the waterfront, and make better connections back toward South Boston. We’re really excited about it.”