UMass-Boston seeks to buy Bayside Expo; Motley says no plans for dorms

Wednesday, Dec 16- 5:00 p.m.- The University of Massachusetts-Boston is moving to purchase the Bayside Exposition Center on Columbia Point.

"We have signed a letter of intent to purchase the Bayside Property from L&R/CMAT," UMass-Boston Chancellor J. Keith Motley said Wednesday morning, Dec. 16 in an interview. Asked if the Bayside property would be used as a site to construct student dormitories, Motley said, "We have no plans to build other student housing. Our plans call for 2000 units of housing on campus, next to the Peninsula building."

Once a thriving venue with big-ticket draws like the New England Flower Show, the 20-plus acre waterfront property unexpectedly changed hands earlier this year after its longtime owner and operator - Corcoran Jennison Companies - defaulted on a loan and lost the property to foreclosure. The exposition center was sold at auction last May to one of Corcoran’s creditors, L&R/CMAT, which then hired KeyPoint Partners, LLC, a Burlington-based real estate company, to manage the facility.

Prior to its troubles this year, Bayside saw its trade and consumer show business drop precipitously in recent years as a sagging economy, changing consumer habits, and competition from newer venues sliced into its market. In 2007, 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 market-rate housing and retail. That plan was under review by the Boston Redevelopment Authority when the foreclosure proceedings abruptly interrupted the re-development effort last spring.

Last summer, the new owners retained a Virginia company owned by a former Bayside Expo manager, Tom Ballantine, in an effort to revive the complex as an exposition venue. Ballantine, who ran operations at the Bayside from 1996-2000, told the Reporter in June that the venue - though aging and too small to accommodate big-name trade shows - could still fill a void for consumer shows and special events in the Boston market. Two weekend consumer shows, the Home Show and the Snow-Ski Expo, have been among the events staged at Bayside Expo in recent months.

UMass spokesman DeWayne Lehman confirmed the plans of the University of Massachusetts Building Authority and added: "Over a short period of time, we expect three construction projects on campus. The Edward M Kennedy Institute is expected to break ground in 2010, and a science building shortly after that. There are also plans for another academic building, as well as renovations to some classrooms. Some of the construction will take away current (on-campus) parking space, and we will need space to use for parking and classrooms."

Lehman said that once the purchase is complete, "We would fairly quickly begin to use it. We have known for some time that we would need more space." He said a number of alternate sites have been considered, including the now-closed Channel 56 property on Morrissey Blvd.

"These others required a lot of work, but the Bayside property offers flexibility of both parking and space."

Once home to a shopping mall, the Bayside Expo was built in the late 1960s as part of a systematic revitalization of the Columbia Point peninsula that was spearheaded by Joseph Corcoran, a leading developer who also transformed the once-moribund Columbia Point projects into the present-day Harbor Point community. The Bayside property contains about 20 acres, with a 275,000 square-foot building and parking for up to 2,000 cars. Three adjacent properties, the Boston Teachers Union hall at 180 Mt. Vernon Street, the five-story Bayside Office Center at 150 Mt. Vernon Street, and the Doubletree Club Hotel at 240 Mt. Vernon remain privately owned and will not be included in the purchase.

UPDATE- Dec 16- 7:45 p.m.
Two weeks ago, Chancellor Motleyhosted an evening dinner for about 15 "community leaders" from Dorchester. Tonight he sent an email to them in which he explains the UMass plans in some detail. The text of the email follows:

"UMass Boston has entered into a preliminary agreement with the owners of the Bayside
Exposition Center, LNR/CMAT, to purchase the property to help meet the university's
space needs over the next several years as we begin to develop new campus facilities
and renovate outdated existing facilities.

"We recognize that the 20-acre Bayside site holds great potential. UMass Boston's
acquisition of the property, in addition to meeting immediate needs, would initiate
a university-led planning process to create a vision for redeveloping the site to
further university and local objectives. UMass Boston would work with the City of
Boston, the state, Columbia Point neighbors, and the surrounding communities to
develop a plan that realizes the potential of the site, stimulates economic
activity, creates jobs, and brings greater activity and opportunity to Columbia
Point and the region.

"The need for additional space is crucial for UMass Boston to develop the first new
academic facilities on our campus in 35 years. As the only public university in the
Greater Boston area, UMass Boston has a unique mission to provide access to
high-quality, low-cost education. With approximately 80 percent of UMass Boston
graduates choosing to stay in Massachusetts, we believe it's essential for future
contributors to the state's economy to learn in 21st-century facilities and research
environments.

"As I mentioned at our dinner, beginning in 2010, UMass Boston anticipates starting
construction on three new facilities: an Integrated Sciences Complex, a general
academic building, and the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate.
With existing facilities and parking already strained to capacity, the university
will need space to replace parking eliminated during the construction process and to
relocate offices and classrooms during renovations to existing buildings.

"The Bayside site presents a unique opportunity for UMass Boston to fill these space
needs and at the same time will bring stability in ownership of this large and
important Columbia Point property since its foreclosure earlier this year. The
university is committed to working with the City of Boston and Mayor Thomas M.
Menino to compensate for the property's removal from the city's tax rolls.

"The acquisition of the Bayside would be paid for with bond funding and would have
little impact on student tuition or fees. In fact, the availability of parking at
the Bayside would delay the need for the university to raise parking fees to develop
new on-campus parking structures.

"As you may recall, UMass Boston's 25-year capital plan calls for the redevelopment
of the campus with new and renovated facilities, new infrastructure, and green space
for greater access to and engagement with the public. The first 10 years of the
master plan, launched in 2007, calls for more than $500 million in new facilities
and infrastructure construction on the campus, creating jobs and generating
significant economic impact.

"Thank you again for your interest in UMass Boston, and please don't hesitate to
contact Gail Hobin at 617 287-5300 should you have any questions or would like
additional information.

"Have a safe and happy holiday season.
J. Keith Motley, Chancellor
University of Massachusetts Boston"

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