Bayside Expo Center sets stage for return

The new owners of Bayside Exposition Center have hired a Virginia-based firm to book and manage shows and other events at the largely dormant venue on the Columbia Point waterfront. The Ballantine Managament Group, owned by a man who once worked as Bayside’s executive director, has begun booking consumer shows — including September’s Boston Home Show.

The property, which was built and managed by a division of the the Corcoran Jennison Companies for three decades, went into foreclosure earlier this year. It was sold at auction in June to a Miami creditor and is now managed by KeyPoint Partners, LLC, a Burlington-based real estate company.

Once a thriving venue with big-ticket draws like the New England Flower Show, Bayside saw its business drop precipitously in recent years as a sagging economy, changing consumer habits and competition from newer venues sliced into its market. Two years ago, the Corcoran Jennison Company rolled out plans for an ambitious $1 billion project that would have razed the exhibition hall and replaced it with a mixed-use development — including housing and retail.

Executives with Corcoran Jennison were not available to comment on the Bayside’s transition — or on the status of their proposed development— this week.

The new owners are looking to jump back into the exhibition market under the leadership of Tom Ballantine, who ran operations at the Bayside from 1996-2000. Ballantine says that the venue, though older and too small to accommodate big-name trade shows, is still an attractive facility for consumer shows and special events.

“With Boston being a major market, there is always a market for consumer sows. Most are not a fit at the [Boston Convention and Exhibition Center] so there are two options- the World Trade Center or Bayside.”

Ballantine said that it was “too early to tell” the volume and quality of shows that the re-opened Bayside might attract.

“I’ve been very pleased with the level of interest and people reaching out to us,” Ballantine said. “There are shows that have been there for a number of years but for a few months didn’t think they had a home. Two of those are the Home Show and the Snow and Ski Expo.”

Ballantine noted that the property is also suited for outdoor events, which have been staged at the Columbia Point property over the years, including the Big Apple Circus and the Cirque du Soleil, which staged in the Bayside parking lot last year.

Still, Ballantine acknowledged that it was not likely that Bayside could produce the same volume of events as it did in its heyday when “it cranked. It was one of the busiest venues in the country in the mid-1990s.”

“When you lose things like the Flower Show and with it substantial revenue, it’s tough to replace that. In the venues I’ve owned we have to be creative to fill the space. Overall consumer shows are down and it’s not just the current economy.”

Events like week-long shows no longer command the same audience due to competition from online auctions.

“The good thing about the show business is you are dealing with raw space. Bayside is an older building and has some challenges- it has low ceilings and too many columns. But the show producers know what they’re getting,” Ballantine said.

“We’re going to look at everything. We’re being brought in to bring in as much revenue as we can. Trade shows will be a tough battle, but there are consumer and entertainment driven things we can do.”

Ballantine says that graduations, church services, mixed martial arts events and even concerts are on the potential list.

“We’ll look at everything. My guess is that this is a two or three part process. Phase one is here which is to get back involved and evaluate what the interest level is and take it from there.”