Sunday, April 15, 2018

Sitting On the Dock of the Bayside

From Dave Brigham:

Pay no attention to the fact that there's no man -- or woman, child or, well, building -- behind the Bayside Expo Center sign. OK, there is, but it's the Massachusetts Registry of Vital Records and Statistics, not the exhibition hall where folks used to go see car shows, comic book conventions and electronics industry trade shows.

I'm pretty sure I went to Bayside once in the 27 years since moving to the Boston area. I don't recall what the event was, but I guess that doesn't matter, does it? I walked by the sign recently on a jaunt with my son, Owen, to check out the Calf Pasture Pumping Station on the nearby campus of UMass Boston (see March 29, 2018, "Udderly Monstrous"). We'd been in this area a few years ago while out riding the subway, and as he hunted for Pokemon I checked out the ongoing demolition of the old expo center.

Built in the 1960's as a shopping mall (!!!), the expo center site is located in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood. The mall shuttered in the early '70s and the building sat vacant, I believe, until opening as an expo center in 1983.

Here's a picture of it in its heyday:

I stole this photo from here. Buy it if you like.

After suffering through a business slump brought on by the opening of the massive Boston Convention & Exhibition Center in South Boston and the continuing operations at the Hynes Convention Center, Bayside went into foreclosure in 2009. UMass Boston acquired the property -- 275,000 square feet of exhibition space and 20 acres of parking lots -- in early 2010. Since that time the school has worked hard to figure out a plan for the property.

A few years ago, when Boston was bidding for the 2024 Olympics, the city's plan called for an athletes village at the Bayside site. Then Boston withdrew its bid. In 2016 talk was that the New England Revolution -- the professional soccer team owned by New England Patriots boss Robert Kraft -- would build a stadium at the old Bayside site. That fell apart, too.

Last August, UMass Boston issued a request from developers. In it, the school conceptualized "a vision to transform the Bayside Property into a modern-day Harvard Square, New Balance/Boston Landing, Kenmore Square, MIT Volpe Center etc., projects; a mixed-use destination where a diverse community lives, learns and thrives, integrated with and complementary to the UMass Boston campus that optimizes its value and creates an oceanfront Boston neighborhood with academic, research, retail, residential, dining, entertainment and cultural uses, serving as a new gateway to UMass Boston and distinguish the University in the higher education marketplace as a unique, attractive urban university, all accomplished by leveraging public private partnerships that will facilitate a more rapid development of the Bayside."

Whew! That's a LOT of words. The university received 16 letters of intent from developers. In January, UMass announced plans to sell the site, which it acquired for $18.7 million out of foreclosure, for as much as $200 million. Financially strapped, the school would use the proceeds from a sale or longtime lease, to demolish a crumbling parking garage and for other capital improvements, per the Globe article.

Whatever happens at this site, it will significantly change an area of the city that has been underdeveloped for decades. Other projects in the surrounding area are in the works, or at least in the pipeline. Stay tuned....

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