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UMass Boston Lists Bayside Site For Potential Sale

The University of Massachusetts Boston has hired a real estate broker to seek potential buyers of 20 acres of oceanfront property, which could net the school many times what it paid for the land in 2010.

Any revenue generated by development of the former Bayside Expo Center site "will be earmarked for the Boston campus, including to address critical infrastructure needs," said Jeff Cournoyer, a spokesman for UMass President Marty Meehan, in an email.

Cournoyer would not say how much money the school hopes to raise with a sale, but he said it could help finance the repair of a substructure on the Boston campus, "which could cost $150 million or more."

The 20-acre parcel in relation to other Columbia Point sites (Courtesy of the UMass Building Authority)
The 20-acre parcel in relation to other Columbia Point sites (Courtesy of the UMass Building Authority)

The university’s building authority hired Newmark Knight Frank to market the waterfront site — prime Columbia Point real estate that UMass scooped up for $18 million in 2010. The news of the broker was first reported by the Boston Globe.

Last summer, the UMass Building Authority issued a "Request for Information" to developers, triggering an impressive response. Sixteen companies indicated an interest in buying or partnering with UMass to redevelop the site.

The site has been the source of controversy in recent years.

Initially, the university said it intended to redevelop the site on its own to expand its campus footprint and for parking. Then the site’s future became murkier when it was identified as the potential site of an Olympic Athletes Village, a notion that fell by the wayside after Boston abandoned its bid for the 2024 summer games.

More recently, the Bayside site sat in limbo as New England Revolution owner Robert Kraft set his sights on building a 20,000-seat soccer stadium there. The Kraft group later said it spent “millions of dollars” designing the stadium and probing the site itself, but UMass and Kraft abandoned their talks and declared the deal "dead" last year amid sharp criticism about the secretive talks.

Some on campus are skeptical of the university's intentions for the Bayside land, which include the transformation of the area into a “modern-day Harvard Square.”

"It would seem a little ironic to me to have UMass Boston — which we call the 'diversity flagship of the UMass system' — turn over its land to a new Harvard Square," said Tom Goodkind, president of the Professional Staff Union at UMass Boston.

Goodkind said if the sale of the land does result in a windfall for UMass, the priority should be ensuring that what's built is in line with the desires of the surrounding community.

The development, he said, ought to be "something that will strengthen the mission of UMass Boston, which remains, as far we're concerned, to educate a fundamentally urban population when nobody else will."

He added: "That’s with the priority should be.”

Some neighborhood leaders are glad the development of the site is moving forward.

Paul Nutting, a Savin Hill resident and advocate for Columbia Point, said he wants to see the land go to the highest bidder.

"We've been waiting here in the neighborhood for things to develop along that whole Columbia Point master plan area, for things that we can use," he said.

Those uses, Nutting said, include restaurants, as well as housing designated for homeownership.

One of the abutters to the old Bayside site is the Boston Teachers Union, which has its headquarters on Mount Vernon Street. President Jessica Tang said the union's plans to build a new headquarters have been held up by talks over what happens at the adjacent site — first the Olympics proposal, then the Kraft soccer stadium.

Because university officials have talked about creating a "new Harvard Square," Tang said, "building a new headquarters right smack in the middle of that development area might not be the best use of the land."

She added: "That's why we are open to conversations."

With reporting by Bill Forry of the Dorchester Reporter. WBUR and the Reporter have a partnership in which the news organizations share resources to collaborate on stories. WBUR’s Simón Rios is currently working from the Reporter newsroom.

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