UMass-Boston moving to buy Bayside Expo; no plans for dorms

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 yesterday morning 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.