Decision on Bayside site’s fate expected later this summer

A decision is expected later this summer on what UMass-Boston plans to do with the former site of the Bayside Expo Center, which the university bought earlier this year.

Several options remain on the table for the property, which has 275,000 square feet of exhibition space and 20 acres of parking: using it for parking, classroom space, and razing the building. UMass-Boston’s budget chief Ellen O’Connor said the site is unlikely to be used as exhibition space.

UMass officials noted in a meeting with community members this week that it could cost the university tens of millions of dollars to bring the building up to code because of asbestos and mold. The meeting was aimed at providing community members with an update on the university’s plans for the property and other construction on campus. Representatives from Rep. Marty Walsh’s office, Mayor Thomas Menino’s neighborhood services office, the Boston Redevelopment Authority, and City Councillor At-Large Felix Arroyo’s office were among those in attendance.

“It appears from Ellen’s comments last night that they are laying the groundwork for a demolition,” Paul Nutting, a member of the Columbia Savin Hill Civic Association. Nutting said his concern was how UMass makes the site more attractive from the HarborWalk, often used by local walkers and joggers, and Mt. Vernon St.

O’Connor said that for the foreseeable future, the space will be used as parking as the university embarks on $500 million in construction, including a new science building, an academic building and the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the Study of the Senate. All will be built at roughly the same time over the next few years.

The projects are expected to displace parking on-campus and university-owned athletic fields, as well as lead to a need for space for the project’s contractors. At peak construction, contractors will need over 700 parking spaces, university officials said.

The site was once owned by Corcoran Jennison Companies, which lost the property to foreclosure. The university bought the property for $18.7 million. Before that, the Bayside had seen a steep drop in business.

UMass-Boston’s pick-up of the property has slowed the work of a Boston Redevelopment Authority task force aimed at laying out a master plan for the Columbia Point area. The task force is expected to meet again later this summer.

University officials also unveiled a rendering of the science building, which they have dubbed the “Integrated Science Complex.” The rendering shows a building that takes more cues from the $75 million steel-and-glass campus center than the other, older buildings on university grounds that tend to evoke the “Brutalist” architecture of the 1970s and the reviled design of Boston’s City Hall.
“We know we don’t want a brick monolith,” O’Connor said. “The chancellor said it must be a signature building.”

The complex was being designed by Boston-based firm Goody Clancy. The 217,000 square feet building will include research labs for biology, chemistry physics and environmental sciences, teaching labs, animal care and behavioral observation facilities, research centers, a ground floor atrium, a café and lounges.

Construction, expected to cost $152 million, is expected to start in December, with an opening for the building slated for fall 2013.

The university also plans to finish off the Harbor Walk. The project, aimed at buffing and completing the trail, is expected to start next May, with the winter spent on design.

Dorms, the prospect of which has continued to draw criticism from some Dorchester residents, remain several years away, UMass officials maintain.