Editorial: It's go-time at Bayside

Dorchester Bay City.

That’s the name that the development team from Accordia Partners came up with for the massive redevelopment of the old Bayside Expo site on our waterfront. The project will also one day include what is now the Santander Bank campus on Mt. Vernon Street.

The name works. The vision is grand. Now, we will see if the execution of the project itself — probably over the next seven years, if all goes well— can live up to its transformative potential.

Last week’s filing of preliminary plans with the Boston Planning and Development Agency kicks off a formal review process that will take shape quickly. The city has already appointed a 25-member Community Advisory Committee that will give oversight to specifics like urban design, infrastructure, zoning relief and public access. A larger kick-off meeting for the public is scheduled for Oct. 19 at 6 p.m. There are four more BPDA-sponsored virtual meetings already on the calendar through December.

It won’t be a simple matter. Make no mistake: This will be the single most consequential development event in Dorchester since UMass Boston was laid out on the Columbia Point peninsula beginning in the late 1960s.

The two men who are now central to how well it is executed are experienced in finance and development. Richard Galvin and Kirk Sykes have a keen understanding of how Dorchester — and this site in particular—fit into the overall growth of the region.

Last week, in an interview with the Reporter, Sykes told us that he thinks the DBC project will prove that— even in a covid-scarred world— vibrant cities like ours will continue to draw people who want to work, live and play here.

“This is the answer to not moving your company to the suburbs,” said Sykes. “I think people are reacting to the covid moment and the speculation is that there will be some people that want to get further away [from the city]. But to have the luxury of facing the water, adjacent to one of the largest parks in Boston, and given the low density nature of the peninsula around us, we think it’s really going to be attractive.”

“You just can’t get that in the suburbs, so we don’t believe the world is going to get suburban, we believe urban is going to evolve,” he added. “We have the ability to vision this project with this moment in mind to give people more air, light and breath in proximity to open space.” 

It’s important to recall that — just a few years ago— this prime waterfront site was being eyed for a sports stadium by Robert Kraft and his soccer franchise. When it became public knowledge that UMass and Kraft were talking about a no-bid deal to lease and develop Bayside, the Reporter and others blew the whistle. As we argued in this space repeatedly, the better deal for the university and for our neighborhood would come through a public process, which Kraft surely could have participated in. To their credit, UMass saw it the same way and put out a request for proposals instead, which resulted in this lease agreement with Accordia. As we reported last year, if Accordia develops the 20-acre Bayside site in full, it could yield as much as $235 million for the campus. Not bad considering that UMass Building Authority shelled out $18.7 million to buy the old expo center in 2010.

But, UMass is just one stakeholder in this huge undertaking. Dorchester, South Boston— and indeed, the whole city, will benefit from more fully integrating Bayside into our neighborhood. Let’s get it started.

– Bill Forry