BREAKING NEWS- UMass and Bayside Expo agree on sale

UMass-Boston has completed the purchase and sales agreement in its acquisition of the Bayside Expo Center on Columbia Point, the university announced yesterday while withholding the price of the deal.

Last December, UMass signed an offer to buy the site from L&R/CMAT, which had picked up the property at a foreclosure auction last spring. The sale will be overseen by the University of Massachusetts Building Authority (UMBA), a state agency responsible for the provision of new academic, athletic, and residential facilities on UMass campuses and for the renovation of existing buildings. Construction is funded primarily through tax-exempt bonds issued by the Authority.

The Bayside property comprises 275,000 square feet of exhibition space and parking on 20 acres of land. UMass officials have pointed to the need to acquire the Bayside site to help facilitate the campus's 25-year capital plan, which includes $500 million in on-campus construction of new and renovated facilities.

In a document released late last year, UMass described its needs: “With existing facilities and parking already strained to capacity, the University will need space to replace parking eliminated during the construction process and may in the mid-term want to relocate offices and classrooms during renovation of existing campus buildings. … The Bayside Expo Center provides a unique opportunity for the University to fill those needs and offers extensive long term potential as well.”

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

Prior to that, Bayside had seen 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 last spring's foreclosure proceedings abruptly interrupted the process.

Last summer, the new owners retained a Virginia company owned by a former Bayside Expo manager, Tom Ballantine, to manage the complex as an exposition venue. Currently, there are no planned for the site after April, 2010.

In December, UMass spokesman DeWayne Lehman said that "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 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 property was built in the late 1960s as a self-contained shopping mall at the northern edge of the Columbia Point peninsula. That retail development failed in the early 1970's, remaining largely dormant until being acquired by the Corcoran Jennison Company, a leading developer that transformed the once-moribund Columbia Point project into the present-day Harbor Point community.

Three properties adjacent to the Expo Center – 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.