The University of Massachusetts-Boston is moving to purchase the Bayside Exposition Center on Columbia Point.
â€œWe have signed a letter of intent to purchase the Bayside Property from L&R/CMAT,â€ UMass-Boston Chancellor J. Keith Motley said yesterday morning in an interview. Asked if the Bayside property would be used as a site to construct student dormitories, Motley said, â€œWe have no plans to build other student housing. Our plans call for 2000 units of housing on campus, next to the Peninsula building.â€
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 â€“ Corcoran Jennison Companies â€“ defaulted on a loan and lost the property to foreclosure. The exposition center was sold at auction last May to one of Corcoranâ€™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 â€” 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 â€“ though aging and too small to accommodate big-name trade shows â€“ 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: â€œOver 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.â€
Lehman said that once the purchase is complete, â€œWe would fairly quickly begin to use it. We have known for some time that we would need more space.â€ He said a number of alternate sites have been considered, including the now-closed Channel 56 property on Morrissey Blvd.
â€œThese others required a lot of work, but the Bayside property offers flexibility of both parking and space.â€
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.