As Bayside Expo’s razing nears, interest in parcel grows
Expo hall’s razing will kick off plans
With the demolition of the tired Bayside Expo Center in the coming weeks, the University of Massachusetts Boston embarks on the latest phase of its long-term plans to lift the school’s fortunes while also transforming a prized property on Columbia Point.
Initially, the event center will be replaced with a large parking lot, space the university says it desperately needs to accommodate its growing student body. Once UMass builds two planned parking garages on its main campus a half-mile away, officials say, they will think about grander plans for the Expo Center location, which could include academic buildings or dormitories.
But others already have their eyes on the property, located between an MBTA stop and Dorchester Bay. Organizers for the Boston 2024 Olympic bid have pegged the 20-acre tract as a possible home for an athletes village. Nearby residents, meanwhile, see the waterfront location as a place for the entire neighborhood.
“There are a range of possibilities,” said Ed Lambert, U-Mass Boston’s vice chancellor for government relations and public affairs. “Where we eventually go will require some additional community input.”
Chancellor Keith Motley has set a goal to increase UMass Boston enrollment to 25,000 by 2025, from the current 17,000, creating a demand for more space. The demolition at Bayside will give UMass an extra 600 parking spaces on the site, to bring the total there to 1,900.
The $9 million Expo Center demolition project was jump-started by the winter blizzards, which caused the roof in one part of the four-building complex to collapse. Demolition of the complex, which contains asbestos, is expected to begin July 1 and finish in September.
Columbia Point sits on filled land that over the decades has served as a calf pasture, World War II prisoner-of-war camp, a dump, and a public housing complex. The Expo Center site was home to a 1960s shopping mall and center and later hosted well-known boat, flower, car, auto, and sports trade shows.
But business dried up when activities moved to the Boston Convention Center & Exhibition Center in South Boston, which opened in 2004. UMass scooped up the site in 2009 for $18.7 million.
Earlier this year, the campus opened a new $182 million Integrated Science Complex, its first new academic building in 40 years. Also underway is a $70 million project to rehabilitate academic buildings, as well as planning and construction of two additional academic buildings, budgeted at $131 million and $86 million.
The campus is also in the midst of a $184 million project to redo roadways and rerun utilities across the campus as a result of shoddy work 40 years ago, an infamous project that led to extortion convictions for two state senators and a series of statewide reforms. The state has pledged to contribute $75 million to the work.
UMass is not ready to develop the Bayside Expo site because it has reached the limit of its ability to borrow as it completes those major projects. The school’s self-imposed bond cap also has prompted officials to explore a public-private partnership to build its first residence halls, regardless of what happens with the Olympic bid, on the main campus.
The college has requested bids from developers who would build and finance the halls, in what would be one of the state’s first large-scale public-private partnership projects.
Public-private deals for the dorms would require the approval of the Baker administration, according to a UMass spokesman. The governor is open to exploring such arrangements, his spokesman said.
Meanwhile, another group is interested in the campus. Boston 2024, the local Olympic organizing committee, has named the Bayside Expo site as a potential location to house about 16,000 athletes and trainers. Boston 2024 plans to announce a revised plan for an Olympic village location in the next week.
That prospect could be good for UMass, because it could mean the school could inherit the village to use as dorms — for free. Motley told the Globe in January that “their plans fit into our plans,” but UMass officials this week were more cautious.
“We’re on our own timetable and if that can somehow match up with the timetable of 2024, I think we’re more than happy to try to be supportive,” Lambert said.
The group backing the Olympics promised in a statement Monday to improve each venue site, “so that each can become a vital part of Boston for generations after the Games.”
Meanwhile, the Corcoran businesses own 9 acres adjacent to the expo center, including the 197-room DoubleTree hotel and the Corcoran Jennison office building. The well-known Bayside Expo sign sits on both the Corcorans’ land and UMass property.
Corcoran has plans to build 184 apartments and 84 more hotel rooms on its land, Michael Corcoran said. Corcoran also owns the 1,285-unit Harbor Point apartments on the other side of the Expo site.
Corcoran criticized UMass’s short-term plans and said he is open to the idea of an Olympic village next door.
“We would like to see them have a more ambitious plan than parking,” Corcoran said.
The Boston Teachers Union also owns part of the Expo Center site and plans to build bigger offices on its land. However, union president Richard Stutman said the group talked with Boston 2024 on Friday and would be amenable to moving elsewhere.
Neighbors said they want the site to be a boon to the entire neighborhood, not just students, and include amenities like senior housing. Eileen Boyle, president of the Columbia-Savin Hill Civic Association, said neighbors are resigned that dorms will come to UMass, but the group does not have a position on the issue.
The city in 2011 approved a master plan for developing Columbia Point, but no zoning changes followed, which would have helped enforce the plan. Now, neighbors say they feel left out of discussions about the Bayside site’s future.
“Something that would include the neighborhood is what we would like to see,” Boyle said. “We don’t want to lose our waterfront.”