Next moves on Expo site development: Sign the contract, gear up input process

A slide from last week’s UMass Board of Trustees presentation shows the Bayside site in the context of the UMass Boston campus and the neighborhood.

The next big steps for the team that was selected last week by the University of Massachusetts to lead the redevelopment of the former Bayside Expo land on Dorchester’s Columbia Point: Negotiate and sign a final lease agreement and ramp up a “robust stakeholder and community input process” to lay out the future uses of the highly valued waterfront property.

The UMass Board of Trustees and the UMass Building Authority voted unanimously last Thursday to approve a search team’s recommendation of Accordia Partners, which is led by Boston real estate executives and financiers Richard Galvin and Kirk Sykes, as the developer of a deal that could yield the university as much as $235 million over time, according to sources familiar with the financials.

The designation came after an 18-month bid process that narrowed a field of interested developers to a group of six and then two finalists.

Sources close to the process say that the Galvin-Sykes bid was chosen because it offered the most solid financial plan for paying for a 99-year land lease. The group also brings to the table a diverse group of investors and includes the option of UMass Boston choosing to lease back part of the 20-acre site for its own future use. Their initial bid also includes $25 million in “infrastructure commitments,” which the development team said is a first step toward building a private-public pool of money to target various congestion points and transit hubs near the Point.

There is no concrete re-development plan in place yet at this stage of the process. The Galvin-Sykes team will take the lead in engaging the community in a planning process that will likely begin this year. Officials who briefed the Reporter on the contents of their winning proposal last week said that it will include a mix of uses including housing, office or lab space, retail and restaurant options, and the potential for UMass to use part of the site.

UMass acquired the former Bayside Expo Center in 2010 for $18.7 million after its former owners forfeited the site in a foreclosure during the 2008-09 recession. The university has since then mainly used the waterfront land for parking for its Dorchester campus. The property was briefly included in the failed Boston 2024 proposal to bring the Olympic Summer Games to the city. When that bid was abandoned, Robert Kraft’s sports group began closed-door talks with UMass to lease the site and build a professional soccer stadium on the site. That plan was scuttled amid negative push-back from elected officials and abutters.

Early indications from the outline of this new arrangement with the Galvin-Sykes partners are that UMass will realize significantly more money in this transaction, while reserving the right to use some of the Bayside parcel for its own future use.

Galvin is the founder, CEO, and president of CV Properties, LLC, which has “developed and acquired more than $4.5 million square feet of office and residential projects valued at $2.5 billion,” according to his company’s website. Recent projects in Boston include the D Street hotels next to the Massachusetts Convention and Exhibition Center in South Boston; and 451 D Street, a nine-story office building in South Boston.

Sykes is the senior vice president at New Boston Real Estate Investment Funds. The former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, he is president of Urban Strategy American Fund, L.P. which specializes in “the creation of urban mixed-use developments.”

State Sen. Nick Collins, who had urged UMass officials to seek a wide range of proposals from the broader development community in 2017, said last week that he was pleased with the new direction and the choice of developer.

“Today marks the next step in a process the community, elected and UMass officials worked hard to see launched,” Collins said. “The open bid process for Bayside drove some great teams to compete for a chance to partner with UMass to create something special on Dorchester Bay.“

Robert Griffin, the co-head of US capital markets for Newmark Knight Frank— the commercial real estate firm hired by the UMass Building Authority to find an appropriate private partner for Bayside— said there was strong attraction to the site.

“We had lots of people interested,” he told the Reporter. “Most of the market saw this as sort of the next sort of Seaport, given the proximity to the Red Line, eight minutes to Kendall Square, a zero-vacancy market right now in lab and in office space in Cambridge — and the Longwood medical area, same thing.”

Griffin added: “At the end of the day, we had six very serious contenders and we got it down to two. Most people were focused on something that would be a credit to the neighborhood, a credit to the school, the community, hoping to have a plan that would attract the kind of talent that would provide jobs in the area. Jobs for the students at UMass, internships, and maybe something that would be synergistic with the programs there, whether it be the wonderful nursing school that they have or something in life science because there’s so many of those types of requirements out there right now.”

Some “headquarter” type businesses looked at the site, Griffin said, many with lab and tech space in mind, but the mixed-use potential of Bayside rose to the top.

Michael Byrne, executive managing director of Newmark Knight Frank’s Boston office, said the UMass Boston campus was a priority in soliciting feedback from the community.

“In the third round, we actually had Chancellor [Katherine] Newman provide her vision as a kind of mission statement back to developers to help guide their work and refine their pricing,” he said. “So, throughout the process the needs of the campus were put at the forefront of it and the ability to tie in.”

UMass spokesman Jeff Cournoyer said “the process of sort of visioning exactly what the mix” will be on the site is still to come.”

The advisory group — led by UMass Building Authority chairman Victor Woolridge, a veteran real estate executive— worked with Newmark to choose the developer. In doing so, they looped in every local elected official and met with both the Columbia-Savin Hill Civic Association and the John W. McCormack Civic Association throughout the process, Cournoyer said. The existing Columbia Point Master Plan was also factored into the selection.
“It is really going to be up to the developer to work through a full and robust community process from a design standpoint,” Byrne said. “From a campus engagement standpoint, we can certainly speak to the rights of the campus going forward…. Put simply, the campus is going to maintain as many rights as possible to future opportunities to develop on their own account — for housing or for other academic needs going forward.

Details were slim last week, but the team said the terms were for a 99-year ground lease for the Bayside site.“My expectation is that there will be a robust conversation around the criteria, which obviously were heavily weighted toward returning the greatest return to the campus and to the university from a financial standpoint,” Cournoyer said. “There were other things taken into consideration, of course: the feasibility of delivering on this project, commitment to that stakeholder process and community input process that we discussed, to diversity and hiring practices and vendors and suppliers and so on and so forth.”

Infrastructure commitments were important part as well. The winning group “went out of their way to make a specific infrastructure commitment,” he said. “We all know there needs to be real dollars spent to help start solving some of those connectivity issues between the Red Line and the campus, whether it’s a new footbridge or rather and [Kosziusko] Circle as well.”

City Councillor Frank Baker, whose district includes the Columbia Point campus, was enthusiastic about the news. “This could potentially unlock transportation issues that we’ve had for years, while putting UMass on good financial footing to plan for future of the campus,” he told the Reporter. “For me, that’s one of the big things. The campus will be great, we’ll be able to walk through there, our kids will have access to job training and internships, but transportation is a big one.”

Also heard on the campus last week: voices raised against the Bayside deal.

In a statement on Wednesday, UMass Boston’s Staff Faculty Union registered its disapproval, citing concerns about rising fees for parking and last year’s UMass Amherst maneuver to purchase Mount Ida College in Newton, which many on the Boston campus view as undermining the Dorchester campus.

“The Mount Ida deal was made behind closed doors, and we are seeing a similar lack of transparency with plans for the Bayside lot,” said Marlene Kim, president of the Staff Faculty Union. “The students, staff and faculty have had no input into major decisions affecting our campus.”

Still unclear is precisely what sort of public review process will accompany the redevelopment project. Since the university owns the site, it will likely remain exempt from the typical large project review managed by the city’s Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA).

In an interview with the Reporter last year, BPDA director Brian Golden expressed confidence that UMass and its development partner will include the city in their efforts to plan out what he called a “mammoth” parcel with “tremendous potential.”