University of Massachusetts officials have had preliminary conversations with the Kraft family and the New England Revolution about the possibility of building a soccer stadium on prime waterfront land owned by the university on the grounds of the old Bayside Expo Center in Dorchester.
The Reporter learned that several elected officials from Dorchester were notified today of the talks by UMass Boston officials, just hours before the news was first published in the Boston Globe.
It is not yet clear what has been discussed specifically, but multiple sources say that the Bayside site is the specific target for a potential stadium.
UMass spokesman Robert Connolly told the Boston Globe in a statement: “We’ve worked closely with the Kraft family in the past and have a shared desire to create new opportunities for our students and for the Commonwealth."
In a subsequent statement to the Reporter, Connolly added:
"The University of Massachusetts is in the process of exploring long-term options for its Bayside property. Our priority is to move forward in a manner that provides a clear benefit for UMass and its students, the community and the Commonwealth.
"We expect this process to continue to unfold and are confident that what emerges at Bayside will advance our mission and will be a source of pride for UMass and the community. We have not made any decisions and agree that any use must have a positive impact -- just as UMass Boston has so clearly has had a major impact locally and is now responsible for a $1.1 billion statewide economic impact."
Laura Oggeri, a spokesperson for Mayor Martin Walsh, said that City Hall was "open" to a conversation about the issue— without specifically mentioning Bayside as a location.
"Mayor Walsh has always been interested in exploring the possibility of a stadium in Boston and he is open to having a conversation about it," said Oggeri. "It's important that any discussion about a stadium includes how it can be used as a catalyst for bringing much-needed improvements to any surrounding neighborhoods."
"The city has not received any proposals for a tax incentive for a stadium," Oggeri added.
Word of a potential stadium on the Columbia Point campus landed with a thud with other elected officials who represent the area.
Congressman Stephen Lynch called it "a bad idea."
"There have been earlier proposals to develop a soccer stadium in that area," Lynch told the Reporter in a statement. "Mainly in connection with the Olympics. However, then and now there is significant opposition because of the massive traffic choke point it would create in the Dorchester and South Boston neighborhoods. The situation is getting progressively worse as the South Boston waterfront development has greatly increased the volume of traffic along the Morrissey Boulevard corridor. So basically it's a bad idea."
State Rep. Dan Hunt told the Reporter that if any conversations were underway between the Krafts and another entity, elected officials had not been contacted on the plan.
“I stand with the community in all of the decisions as far as development,” Hunt said, adding that he felt the idea of a stadium in that location flies in the face of community reaction to similar projects in Dorchester, including a proposed stadium in Neponset that eventually became Pope John Paul II Park.
“If nothing else, it’s disappointing that UMass Boston has had conversations on a stadium there,” Hunt said. “Because UMass Boston has been talking to the community about its overall development plan, and I don’t think that conversation has been as robust as it could be.”
Community reaction and input into the capital plan proposed for UMass Boston’s campus on Columbia Point has been mixed even with regard to the current five-year plan, Hunt said.
With regard to a potential stadium at the old Bayside lot, Hunt said, “I don’t think a stadium would be good at that location.” He elaborated, “A soccer stadium is going to bring in lots of traffic and congestion in an area that already has a lot of traffic and congestion.”
State Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry was similarly displeased by the apparent lack of community input into a project of this potential magnitude.
Though UMass Boston has done good work with its housing plan and commitment to state of the art facilities, Forry told the Reporter, “This is a problem... This is a big deal and a big issue.”
She views the discussion in light of the the conversations surrounding the Boston 2024 proposal, in which “the community was put on the back burner. We will not allow Dorchester to be put on the back burner.”
Forry noted the existing strains of the area, with the much-maligned Kosciuszko Circle overwhelmed daily by traffic during rush hour. In addition, a $750 million gap in the state budget would require any developer to demonstrate a viable funding plan. “We know the state’s not going to be able to come up with that money,” she said.
She is hopeful, as the news broke unexpectedly, that UMass leadership will clarify the conversations that have been underway and bring the community in on the ground floor, as is expected of a major development of this potential scope.
“I want them to know that Dorchester community is not just going to roll over. We’re going to be part of this process,” Forry said.
The Bayside site was acquired by UMass in 2010 after the site's previous owners, Corcoran Jennison Companies, lost it to foreclosure. The university has been embroiled in a prolonged standoff with their neighbors — principally Corcoran Jennison— over land use and redevelopment in recent years, as UMass has blocked a Corcoran plan to build new apartments on land it owns adjacent to Bayside.
The Bayside property was featured in the ill-fated proposal to bring the 2024 Summer Olympic Games to Boston. UMass Boston's Chancellor Keith Motley was a leading proponent of the Boston 2024 proposal, which would have converted the Bayside property— and adjacent land not controlled by UMass— into an Olympic Athletes Village.
Editor's note: The Reporter is a longtime tenant of the Corcoran Jennison Companies-owned Bayside Office Center. Bill Forry, the Reporter's editor, is married to Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry. Jenn Smith reported on the reaction of State House officials, including Sen. Forry.