UMass presses Bayside Purchase- Deal sought within week

UMass officials are forging ahead with plans to acquire Columbia Point’s Bayside Expo Center, seeking a consultant to inspect the property.

Officials say they are hopeful a deal for the center can be completed within the next week. The school has signed a letter of intent to purchase with creditor L&R/CMAT, which had picked up the property at a foreclosure auction.

The moves come as Jack Wilson, president of the UMass system, and Keith Motley, UMass-Boston chancellor, were expected to meet at the State House with local lawmakers who have expressed skepticism about the purchase.

UMass-Boston, through the UMass Building Authority, is looking for a consultant to ensure they aren’t getting a raw deal for the property, which includes 275,000 square feet of exhibition space and parking on 20 acres of land. The consultant, who could be picked next month, would, among other things, check to see that the facility meets fire and building codes and review the status of heating and ventilation systems.

In seeking the consultant through a request for a proposal, UMass-Boston officials pointed to the campus’s 25-year capital plan, which includes $500 million in work on new and renovated facilities and added green space.

“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,” according to the request for proposal (RFP). “The Bayside Expo Center provides a unique opportunity for the University to fill those needs and offers extensive long term potential as well. However, the [anticipated] due diligence is limited to reviewing needs for continuing current operations or, in the alternative, de-activating and securing the building.”

Some, such as Mayor Thomas Menino, have hailed the pending purchase, while others have expressed dismay and said they were left out of the loop. Skeptics add that the purchase could negatively affect a master planning process focused on the peninsula’s economic development and take the property off the city’s tax rolls.

“I’m an advocate for the university. I might be the strongest advocate,” said Sen. Hart. “But I also represent the neighborhood that the university sits in and serves. My concern is somebody is making plans and creating a vision for the university that might conflict with the surrounding neighborhood.”

UMass officials say the move will stimulate the local economy and create jobs, and add that the city will be compensated for the property coming off the tax rolls.

Joslin Lesser and Associates, Inc., a Watertown-based construction consulting firm, has been hired as project manager. The same company has been hired to oversee construction management of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute of the U.S. Senate.

UMasss officials are seeking a construction firm for the building.
The institute, headed by Kennedy family friend Peter Meade, will sit on 50,000 square feet of now-vacant land that’s directly southwest of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

The $37 million facility will include a replica of the U.S. Senate chamber, five classrooms, a library, a café and a replica of a senator’s office.

UMass officials hope to have a firm in place by March and finish the project by late 2012.