Columbia Point owners caught off guard by Olympic vision

The owners of some of the key Dorchester properties that would be displaced by a plan to construct a massive 170-acre Athletes Village for the Olympics have not yet been contacted by Boston 2024 organizers, despite the fact that a document released by Olympics boosters last week claimed that they have “engaged all owners regarding the access and use of this land.”

In the document, which was submitted to United States Olympic Committee (USOC) officials last month – and made public last Wednesday – the organizers of Boston 2024 detailed plans to construct a Village that will house some 16,500 people during the Olympics events.

According to the document, Boston 2024 intends to “lease the property from the University of Massachusetts and would expect that the remaining properties would be acquired by public authority or alternatively financed with a private developer for the planned student housing and residential development post Olympic Games.”

The Boston 2024 submission to the USOC noted that “land control” on Columbia Point could pose a “significant risk to delivery, adding that “we are working closely with the owners to reach a mutually beneficial arrangement.”

However, the Reporter has found that a number of major stakeholders whose properties would be greatly affected have not heard anything from the Boston 2024 committee. The exception seems to be UMass Boston— which only controls the 30- acre Bayside Expo property and has been acting in concert with Boston 2024. UMass Boston Chancellor Keith Motley, a major supporter of the Boston 2024 process, traveled to California last month to make a pitch to the USOC committee. Motley has said that the Village could be “a public-private partnership that will allow us to benefit as a campus.”

But there are several other major stakeholders on the Columbia Point peninsula who own land that would be needed for the Village under the current plan. And they are seeing the plans in a different light.

Chief among them is Corcoran Jennison Companies, which owns the Bayside Office Center property and the nearby Bayside Doubletree Hotel. (The Dorchester Reporter is a tenant in the Bayside Office Center.) Corcoran Jennison is a development and real estate firm that owns and manages the adjacent Harbor Point residential development, which is not part of the Athletes’ Village footprint.

However, the office center and the hotel – which the firm plans to expand in a $28 million project that was approved by the BRA last month would both be displaced by the Village, according to the Boston 2024 document. In addition, a new Corcoran Jennison residential property called “University Place Residences” at 150 Mt. Vernon Street that could be built as soon as this year would also be impacted.
Michael Corcoran, the president of Corcoran Jennison Companies, said late last week that no one from Boston 2024 has ever reached out to discuss the idea of buying, leasing, or otherwise acquiring the firm’s properties. “It’s the first we’ve seen of it. We’re caught completely off guard that someone would suggest that they tear down two buildings— one of which is an approved 184-unit apartment complex approved in a city that desperately needs new apartments,” said Corcoran. “We have approved plans here and we intend to build our buildings out per those approvals.”

Corcoran continued: “The second building – the expansion to the hotel –is happening in a city that desperately needs new hotel rooms. We intend to go forward with our plans and would anticipate that the city wouldn’t be in favor of us stopping and waiting two years to see if Boston gets designated or ten years more for something to be built.”

Another Columbia Point property owner – the Boston Teachers Union (BTU), whose building is adjacent to the Expo Center on Mt. Vernon Street – would be swallowed up by the Athletes’ Village, according to the plans. BTU President Richard Stutman told the Reporter last Thursday that he had not been contacted by Boston 2024. In fact, Stutman said, the union had filed a proposal with the Boston Redevelopment Authority to demolish its existing building to create a building twice its size.

Stutman said the BTU project will go ahead regardless of any Olympic plans. “We have plans filed to do whatever we have to do on our own facility. I don’t think the two are in conflict. I think they’re independent actions.”

[Editor’s note: An earlier online version of this story indicated that the Boston 2024 plan “came as a shock” to Stutman and the BTU. In fact, while Stutman said he was not personally aware of the contents of the 2024 proposal until last week, he said he was not “shocked” by the plan and is “not concerned about it or worried.”]

The Olympics groups plans and the BTU’s outlook, however, do appear to be in conflict, as the Boston 2024 proposal – as outlined last week – would raze the newly built building, if built at all, to make way for a secure compound for the village.

The linchpin of the so-called Waterfront Cluster would include a residential zone for the athletes, and an Olympic Village Plaza including a gift shop and hair salon directly off of Kosciuszko Circle, a parking lot occupying the current Shaw’s and Residences on Morrissey development, and an operational zone in the current Santander Bank buildingt.

A fence would surround the “secure” development, with the sole access point at Kosciuszko Circle. Boston College High School, whose students would be out of school during the Games, will lie within the fence’s boundaries but remain largely unaffected by Boston 2024’s outline, according to the plan. The high school campus, it says, would be used for “practice fields.”

“Following the Games, private developers would redevelop the parts of the Village not used by UMass for student housing as market rate multifamily and for-sale condominiums,” according to the bid documents.

The Columbia Point property owners are not the only ones disaffected by the Boston 2024 proposal at this stage. Businesses that currently own and occupy space at Widett Circle on the South Boston-Dorchester border also say that they have not been consulted about plans to build a 60,000 seat stadium on their sites.