Metal panel falls from Bayside Expo Center sign

The Bayside Expo Center sign after one metal panel fell and crashed into the parking lot below. No one was injured in the incident. (Gintautas Dumcius photo)

A metal panel fell last weekend from the aging and out-of-use Bayside Expo Center sign, crashing onto the parking lot below.

Efforts are underway to remove additional panels from the sign, which is owned by the University of Massachusetts, by the end of this week, as well as an engineering review of the safety of the structure. Another panel, with marquee light bulbs still attached, can be seen hanging precariously from the top of the sign, which is about 80 to 90 feet tall.

UMass bought the former Bayside Expo Center property, a 20-acre site, in 2010, and nine years later designated Accordia Partners to build a $5 billion mixed-use project known as “Dorchester Bay City,” which currently remains under review by the city’s planning and development agency. The Bayside Expo Center was first built as a shopping center in 1966 before becoming an exhibition hall in 1982.

Bayside Expo panelThe panel came down during the weekend and narrowly missed a car. (Image via Corcoran Jennison)

The three-legged sign straddles land owned by UMass and the parking lot for the Corcoran Jennison office building, which is home to the Massachusetts State Lottery and the Dorchester Reporter, among other tenants. UMass Boston has also leased space inside the five-story office building.

On Thursday morning, orange barriers encircled a small section of the parking lot below the sign, and yellow caution tape was tied to trees, blocking a sidewalk used by Columbia Point residents, students, people staying at the Doubletree Hotel, and others.

Corcoran Jennison and UMass have clashed over the sign in the past. A steel access panel on the back of the sign blew away and fell in May 2014, though similar to the most recent incident, it occurred during the weekend and no one was injured.

In the months before the Bayside Expo building was demolished in 2016, an attorney for Corcoran Jennison reached out to the state Department of Public Safety to flag concerns about the sign. Noting that the Bayside Expo Center had also fallen into disrepair, the attorney wrote, “This sign similarly has been neglected and poses a serious threat to public safety.”

The sign, which stands at a height of 80 to 100 feet above the ground, has rusted panels, rivets and screws, as well as a corroded steel superstructure, the letter continued. There is also oil contamination in the soil underneath the sign.

The letter also noted that Corcoran Jennison’s structural engineer believed the sign was “dangerous.”

Later in 2016, UMass hired its own engineering firm, Simpson Gumpertz & Heger to review the state of the sign. The firm’s report called the corrosion “minor” and said the sign is considered safe and secure under the state’s existing building code.

On Wednesday, a spokesman for the UMass Building Authority (UMBA) said the entity, which handles construction matters for the five-campus system, along with UMass Boston, has contacted Simpson Gumpertz & Heger to conduct a new “assessment of the structural integrity of the sign structure.”

“UMBA has been in constant communication with the State Building Inspector since becoming aware of the situation,” the statement said.
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Work was underway to remove panels from the sign after one came crashing down. (Gintautas Dumcius photo)

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