June 22, 2016
Word emerged this week that UMass officials are talking with the Kraft family — owners of the Patriots and the New England Revolution soccer franchise — about siting a 20,000-seat soccer stadium on what used to be the Bayside Expo Center.
UMass officials insist that all they are doing for now is talking and that there is no agreement in place… yet.
That’s good, because UMass is in no position to make a deal like this on its own.
The UMass Building Authority owns the old Expo Center site and a few surrounding parking lots, but it does not control everything else on the Columbia Point peninsula. There are other stakeholders who can —and will —play a decisive role as to whether such a deal is struck.
Unfortunately for those rooting for a soccer stadium, tensions between the university and its neighbors are very poor right now and that works against an agreement. That situation is mainly due to a festering land use disagreement that has already caused years of delay to worthy redevelopment plans on the peninsula.
The former owners of the Bayside Expo site — the Corcoran Jennison Companies, which lost the exposition building to foreclosure in the last major recession— still own significant property all around the expo site. They control the buildings that are attached to the old expo center (including the five-story office building that houses the Reporter and UMass Boston classrooms and support offices); they also own the sprawling, waterfront Harbor Point Apartments, the DoubleTree Hotel, and the Peninsula Apartments.
Corcoran Jennison has plans for a major expansion of its hotel property. The company also intends to build a new six-story apartment complex on land it owns along Mt. Vernon Street, at the front of the Bayside complex. Both projects were approved by the Boston Redevelopment Authority after community review in 2014. But both projects— along with a Boston Teachers Union plan to build a new headquarters on the site of its current Mt. Vernon Street home— are in limbo.
The cause? UMass officials have refused to budge in negotiations with their neighbors over easements, parking rights, and even — as reported extensively by first the Reporter and then the Globe—the aging digital tower that once stood as a beacon for the now bulldozed expo center.
The failed Boston 2024 proposal — which identified Columbia Point as the preferred home for a sprawling Athletes Village— further muddied the waters on the Point. UMass advanced its own interests in promoting the plan without engaging their neighbors, creating a false impression that their campus alone would host the village. In fact, UMass-controlled property would have accounted for a minority of the land needed for that ill-fated plan.
This prolonged standoff between the university and Corcoran Jennison has become an embarrassment to the city and the state. It’s holding up good, community-approved projects and business opportunities and the jobs that go with them.
That’s the environment into which this soccer stadium idea has now been dropped.
Mayor Walsh said on Wednesday that “a big project” like a soccer stadium may be what’s needed to fix the outdated infrastructure on Columbia Point. Perhaps. But before this community begins to weigh the pros and cons of any such proposal for a stadium, there needs to be a transparent, good-faith effort made to end the ongoing standoff on Columbia Point.