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Spat over Bayside expo sign deepens — down to tainted soil

Three pillars support the old Bayside Expo sign; land under two of them is owned by the Corcoran family developers, while land under the third and the sign itself is owned by UMass Boston. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

More trouble is brewing at the base of the old Bayside Expo Center sign, or perhaps more accurately, in the soil beneath it.

The sign is a sore subject between a prominent family of local developers and the University of Massachusetts Boston, two warring neighbors who each own land under the sign’s three legs.

The Corcoran family, which owns the ground under two legs, has dogged the college for years to tear down the sign, which bears the name of the now defunct expo center. But UMass, which owns the sign itself and the land under the third leg, hasn’t budged.

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Michael Corcoran’s latest complaint about the towering relic is that UMass’ stubbornness is preventing him from cleaning up oil contamination under the sign’s concrete base. He said he’s even proposed to move the sign, clean up the soil, then put the sign back, but UMass isn’t interested.

“They said, ‘Don’t touch the sign, don’t go near the sign,’ ” Corcoran said.

The reason Corcoran cares is because he is ready to build an apartment building on his portion of the waterfront property, which borders Mount Vernon Street and includes the Corcoran Jennison office building and DoubleTree Bayside Hotel.

Corcoran said UMass is purposely thwarting his plan, using the sign as leverage in a complex battle over the expo center building, which UMass bought for a bargain in 2009 after the Corcorans lost it to foreclosure.

UMass is in the process of tearing down the center, whose roof collapsed last winter, to build a parking lot for the nearby campus. But the Corcorans retain a web of easements that allow their employees to park on UMass property, much to the university’s annoyance.

In a statement Thursday, a UMass spokesman stopped short of calling Corcoran’s claims overblown, but pointed out that a 2015 report by Corcoran’s engineers said the conditions of the site don’t present an imminent hazard. The spokesman, Robert Connolly, said the university is eager to address “legitimate concerns.”

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The latest round in the feud begs the question: How dire is the need to burrow under the sign’s 7-foot-thick concrete base and clean up the soil.

According to the state Department of Environmental Protection, the site around the sign is indeed an unremediated hot spot, contaminated with fuel oil, and both UMass and Corcoran are eligible to perform cleanup. A spokesman for the DEP said the state doesn’t mind who cleans up the site, as long as it happens before a deadline of May 2018.

It is unclear how the neighbors will work out their differences. Corcoran said UMass reached out recently to see about a meeting, but he told them he isn’t interested.

“Unless they’re interested in really making a deal, I’m not going to meet with them so they can say ‘oh yeah, we’re discussing things,’ ” he said.


Laura Krantz can be reached at laura.krantz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantz.